On clocking out.
An interview with the CEO of CareerHMO about “Why Millennials Aren’t Getting Promotions” has recently gone viral, in particular the idea that “clocking in one minute before you have to and leaving your desk at 4:59 pm makes millennials look lazy and uncommitted.” A response has been circulating around tumblr, pointing out (quite fairly, I think), that the article assumes that “if you aren’t getting 40 hours a week, or even 30, then it must be a problem with YOU and your work ethic, rather than a company’s problem (because they don’t want you get to full time and access to medical benefits.”
As plenty of people have pointed out, it’s become quite fashionable for journalists and corporate leaders to blame millennials for everything from the housing slump to the general rise of narcissism, but if it is the case that millennials aren’t getting promoted because they lack basic office decorum (and as an academic, I’d be quick to point out that the interview gives no statistics or citations as evidence for that), this interview points to a much larger problem, that millennials aren’t getting trained in even the most basic rules of the working world.
Indeed, this is something I’ve come across myself in career coaching, as well, that many recent graduates have little if any idea how employment is supposed to work. And how could they? A considerable portion of college students and recent graduates are still being encouraged to find unpaid internships, despite the fact that many of these program as illegal under the Fair Labor Standards Act. We are literally introducing young people to the working world by making them work illegally.
So here are some key points in response to why millennials aren’t getting promoted. The first and most important is this - you’re a human being. Labor laws should always be based around the understanding the employment is a contractual exchange of services between two human beings, both of whom retaining their own basic rights. Anyone who expects anything else from you is not worth working for. As for the specific points the interview brings up:
Clocking out: if you are a salaried (ie. non-exempt) employee, you can’t clock out because you don’t have set hours. Salaried employees are paid a yearly salary, and that salary is contingent on them meeting the expectations of their job on a regular basis. Your manager should be tracking your progress of your work and judging your performance based on that, not on how many hours you’re in the office. That being said, how long you’re in the office is a culture thing - you should do roughly what everyone else does because that’s how culture works. If you are going to come in at exactly 9am to leave at exactly 5pm every day, then all of your projects should be on time or delays should be communicated clearly to your manager.
If you are an hourly (ie. exempt) employee, then you should be keeping exact records of your hours and submitting these to your employer on a regular (usually weekly) basis. If you work more than 40 (or your contracted number of) hours per week, you are entitled to overtime. It is illegal for your employer to require you to clock out at 40 hours and continue working, to ‘pay’ you for your extra hours by letting you take time off later, or to in any other way misrepresent how many hours you were at your job. If you think your job is short-changing you hours, contact your local Department of Labor or labor union (if you have one).
2.) Not taking initiative: So this one is really hit and miss. I’ve had coworkers and employees who took initiative and hit it out of the park, and others who took initiative and, well, didn’t. Ideally, you should be able to talk through new ideas with your manager and figure out what would work well and fit with the company’s larger goals. That being said, plenty of managers are bad at their job and just want their employees to do what they say - part of working is sussing out the difference for yourself, and then deciding which kind of manager you’d prefer.
3.) Finding problems but not solving them: Listen, unless you have “Manager” or “Director” in your job title, it is NOT your job to solve the company’s problems. If you can, then yes, you might be promoted, but you might also have someone higher up than you take the credit for your work. Again, ideally, when you find problems, your manager will help you find ways to fix them, but any company that scoffs at a (probably) junior employee and says, “well, yeah, it’s a problem - what are you going to do about it?” has much bigger problems.
4.) Giving themselves extended deadlines: Okay, this one I have no defense of. Seriously, what? Deadlines are deadlines. Either meet them, or communicate with your manager and anyone else central to the project about delays as soon as they arise. Taking responsibility for delays is scary, sure, but it’s also just unavoidable - either every project you work on is going to be on time, or you’re going to have to learn to admit you’re delayed at some point.
5.) Not showing commitment in the company’s mission: And this is where I start to think the world is actually out to get millennials. I don’t think I could tell you the ‘mission statement’ of a single organization I have ever worked for, and I have had nothing but glowing reviews and performance evaluations from every single one. The vast majority of people within any given organization are only tangentially responsible to the company’s ‘mission’ - to start with, almost every for-profit company’s mission is “to make money,” and anything else they claim as a mission statement is just advertising by another name, and even non-profit organizations are generally primarily interested in keeping their doors open and everything up and running.
If you want to get promoted, do your job really well. Take on more responsibility, and do that really well, too. Be the someone that everyone else comes to for help. And if, at that point, you’re still not getting promoted, look at the company itself. Has anyone been promoted in your time there? Do those getting promoted have anything in common (including their gender expression or the color of their skin)? There’s no secret formula, and unfortunately, there are plenty of companies where there’s nothing you can do to make it happen.