Wisdom to help 20-somethings manage their careers

Feb 1, 2019 | 20-Somethings, Career Launch, Career Management

Career Navigation Strategies for Gen Y (aka Millennials)
We interviewed Christopher Giangrasso, who heads up Human Resources at a publicly traded corporation in the Philadelphia area. Chris is a good friend of mine, and with 30 years of experience supporting a multi-generational workforce, he has amassed a ton of wisdom on how to successfully create and navigate a career. Without further ado, here’s Chris.

Jo Leonard: “In your work in Human Resources, do you see issues and concerns that are generationally specific to Gen Y?

Chris Giangrasso: “Yes, there are definitely certain perspectives or ways of thinking that seem more specific to our younger team members, and as the dad of three daughters in this age range, I have a good grasp on what they are!”

“Gen Y, you’re a dynamic and fast-moving generation, interested in working on projects that are cool and current. It’s fortunate for me that my industry has a niche for you, because much of our work is about efficiency and requires new and innovative technological solutions. You get a voice at the table because we need your creativity. In my experience, you may be focused on career ascension (perhaps sooner than your organization thinks is appropriate). As a side note I’ve noticed that engineers in particular are less worried about their next promotion and more concerned with continuing to do meaningful and interesting work. But in general you’re extremely aware and up-to-date on the next cutting-edge technology; big organizations may have some trouble keeping up with your expectations in terms of modernization.”

“I’ve also seen that you care about having a flexible schedule and maintaining work/life balance. At my organization, we’ve worked hard to prioritize flexibility for all our employees, whether that’s for ongoing education, childcare, new parents who need leave, older employees caring for elderly relatives, or work-from-home arrangements. If our employees are willing to embrace our company culture, we are willing to meet their needs, which makes for a much more peaceful environment.”

Jo Leonard: “Are there areas where Gen Y as a group tends to struggle or underperform in the workplace environment?

Chris Giangrasso: “You may have heard that your generation tends to be vocal about your complaints. In my experience, it’s true that if Gen Y employees think a change should be made, you’re not afraid to speak your mind. On the one hand, this is a plus because we really do value your opinions, and you are making up an increasingly larger part of the workforce.”

“On the other hand, sometimes being so vocal can create a disconnect with our employees from older generations, many of whom are in management and leadership roles, who may have come from a different era. Getting to know your older peers in a genuine way can definitely help build empathy and a strong working relationship. They are natural mentors, interested in offering you wisdom, and there is no greater gift you can receive than the value of their experience. Find ways to help them also to keep the relationship balanced, like teaching them about a cool new app to show their kids.”

“When it comes to creating shifts within a company, being vocal and having strong opinions comes into play. In large organizations, particularly those where the CEOs aren’t 20-somethings or even 30-somethings (which is still most organizations), the way change happens isn’t effectively that different than it was 30 or 40 years ago. Enthusiastic young employees come in with a lot of great ideas about new initiatives. They’re not afraid to express their opinions. But they’re often not able to connect to the larger picture of how their ideas would help the company as a whole.”

“It’s really not enough to make the lifestyle argument: “This would create a better quality of life for the employees” or “We’re the workforce of the future, so you need to keep us happy.” Those arguments can be a turnoff to leadership from older generations, which often means everyone ends up frustrated and nothing gets resolved.”

Jo Leonard: “Is there a way for Gen Y to more effectively make their case for change?”

Chris Giangrasso: “Absolutely, and it’s something I’ve helped employees with in a number of different situations. In order to create a compelling case, it’s important to remember that it’s not just a generational difference you’re trying to bridge. The leadership of a big organization is ultimately focused on the benefit to the business. For everything you’re selling, including that proposal to add charging stations for electric cars to the company parking lot, there has to be a buyer. Buyers buy for their own reasons, not yours, so you need to identify their needs and then clearly illustrate how what you’re selling addresses those needs.”

“It’s also true that establishing personal credibility and strong relationships helps boost your argument. Socialize within your department and seek to understand what people’s current problems really are. It’s important to understand the goals of both your coworkers and your company. Remember that being more outspoken won’t necessarily bump your requests to the front of the queue. Above all, try to connect your initiatives to the profitability of the organization as a whole. The benefits may be indirect, but connecting those dots will help senior management see your suggestions as economically sound.”

Jo Leonard: “What support do you offer younger professionals  who are struggling on the job?”

Chris Giangrasso: “Sometimes employees face challenges because they’re not well-suited to the role they’re in. We try to minimize that with a comprehensive hiring process, but it can happen. I’d say most of the time, job dissatisfaction usually comes from an employee having difficulty relating socially or fitting into the company’s culture. And that’s not any different for millennials, it affects employees of all ages. The right skill set might be in place, but office politics, cultural norms, or the social environment just aren’t a good match. This can also happen over time; employees may outgrow or become bored with where they are in their career, and may be unwilling or incapable of making an adjustment.”

“With that said, there is a lot that can be done to help employees who are still finding their place in the company or who are facing challenges but are committed to the organization. There are three key ways we typically offer support in Human Resources:

  • Coaching from an HR Professional: One of my staff will work directly with the employee to identify his or her goals, areas for improvement, and opportunities for skill development.
  • Training Programs: We’ve developed and work with a number of training programs that are available to our employees, including training on how to be effective in a multi-generational workplace.
  • Mentorship from Colleagues: We do some “matchmaking” between employees to create mentor relationships, which foster social connection and help employees gain professional insight. These relationships are beneficial for both the protégé (or “mentee,” if you prefer) who can learn tons, and the mentor, who gains leadership experience.”

Jo Leonard: “Do you have an example of a young person you’ve worked with successfully?”

Chris Giangrasso: “We have a young woman who works in one of our plants and is very sharp. Her department wanted her to stay for 2 more years before they would feel that she’d be ready to move on to a new project. I approached her and asked if she would be willing to stay for 2 more years, and whether there was enough to keep her interested and engaged during that time. Fortunately, she said “yes”, but if she had said “no”, it would have been a longer conversation about why she felt her timetable was shorter than her boss’ and how to bridge that gap.”

“My next question was what she might be interested in doing after that. She is definitely an asset and we’d like to know how to keep her happy. She had some ideas about a new facility she’d like to move to eventually. Together we talked through the logistics, including a move across the country, and what the job might entail. She didn’t yet have a thorough understanding of the job, so I gave her some homework.
I asked her to learn more about the opportunity to make sure it was a good fit for her. For my part, I set her up with introductions to some folks in similar positions so she could connect with them. In my experience, there is still no substitute for speaking with individuals who do the job that you’re interested in. She immediately took me up on my offer and began researching the position. Her story shows how coaching and support from my department can be married with personal initiative to set an employee up for success.”

Thank you to Chris for taking the time to share his wisdom!

In our next blog posting, we’ll start a two part series on Taking Charge of Your Career.  Stay tuned!

Career coaching is a very worthwhile investment. You spend more time at work than you do in your home, and look how much you invest in that. For more information on career coaching, contact Jo@JoLeonard.com.