Millennials are ambitious and crave career progression

In their penultimate article in this series Jennifer J Deal and Alec Levenson examine the Millennials’ need for speedy promotion.

While the stereotype of the UK Millennial who believes they should inhabit the metaphorical corner office within a short period of time with a new company is not exactly accurate, our research does show that Millennials can be impatient with rigid timelines for promotion. 

One common complaint about Millennials is that they think they should be promoted within a couple of weeks of starting a new job.

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Historically, many people believed (and some still do) that you needed to spend a certain amount of time in a particular position before you could really do the job well and gain all of the knowledge possible from that position.

The problem with that view is that not all people learn or integrate learning at the same rate. Think of it like learning geometry. Some people intuitively grasp it and can work through the proofs quickly and accurately in a minimal amount of time.

Having them do additional proofs for weeks on end will not result in a substantial improvement in performance. Other people do not intuitively get geometry. They really benefit from the additional time on task, and substantial growth can be seen over a much longer period of time. 

The same is true at work, and Millennials in the UK realise this. They understand that they will master some skills quickly, and others more slowly. What they do not accept is a manufacturing mindset, which says that it will take a precise amount of time before they have learned everything they have to learn in that position.

Millennials realise that everyone is different, and while a one-size-fits-all approach is efficient for an organisation, it does not meet their needs as individuals. They reject ‘wasting’ a couple of years in a position beyond the point when they stop learning just to accommodate the organisation’s planning needs.

The belief that people should not have to stay in a role for a minimum number of years before being promoted is fairly consistent around the world. In fact, 83 per cent of Millennials in the UK actively disagree with the perspective that people should expect to spend a minimum numbers of years in a job before they can be promoted.

In addition to those who disagree, 9 per cent say they are neutral about whether people should have to stay in a position for a specific number of years. This means that only 8 per cent of Millennials believe people should stay in a position for a minimum number of years before they can be promoted, regardless of performance.

A key component of this perspective is the role of merit. The Millennials who do not believe that people should have to stay in a position for a minimum number of years think that if someone is qualified for promotion.

If they are stagnating and not learning, there is no justification for holding them back just because someone believes they should be in the position longer. At its core, this is a generation in the UK that clearly believes in promotions based on merit more than on time in the position.

While 64 per cent of Millennials in the UK are satisfied with their advancement within their organisation, the fact that 36 per cent are not satisfied with their progress indicates a large source of potential turnover.

For those who are not happy with their speed of advancement, sometimes leaving is a good move because the organisation really is too slow to promote, and the Millennial would stagnate if she stayed longer.

Many employees believe they should be promoted as soon as they are ready, solely based on their performance, and start looking for other positions when they are not promoted despite their good performance.

Others are more patient, put in the ‘required’ time and ask to be moved, and yet still are not promoted because the organisation does not prioritise their promotion or development needs. 

The reality in many cases is that someone may be ready for promotion, but they can not move easily because a suitable position is not available – it is ‘blocked’ by someone in it who is not going to move anytime soon.

Many Millennials (and others) move to a different organisation because they feel that their opportunities for development and promotion will be better at the new organisation.

For Millennials, promotion is partly about building skills. If they feel they are stagnating at their current organisation, they will look elsewhere to make sure that stagnation does not continue.

The question organisations and managers need to answer is, if you cannot promote an employee up the hierarchy for some reason, can you provide them with a situation where they still feel they are progressing and learning?  

About the authors

Jennifer J. Deal is a senior research scientist at the Center for Creative Leadership and an affiliated research scientist at the Center for Effective Organizations at the University of Southern California.

Alec Levenson is a senior research scientist at the Center for Effective Organisations at the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California.



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