Your Employer is Not Your Friend, and Young People Know It

An employee shackled to a job
An employee shackled to a job | Source: iStock

So often, millennials are depicted as the bane of traditional America. They’re unattached to political affiliations and religions, and they’re more willing to post a selfie online than any other generation. (Probably because they’re also the generation that made the selfie ubiquitous.) Milliennials are also less likely than their predecessors to get married, according to the Pew Research Center, and are generally distrustful of others.

But perhaps what makes millennials the target of so many negative articles about the “state of America’s youth” are the same characteristics that will also prepare them for their future careers, or protect them in the jobs they already have. A recent article posted on Lifehacker reminds those of us in the workforce of a harsh but true reality: The company you work for is not supremely worried about your well-being, and it’s definitely not your friend.

This could be a tough concept for anyone who confuses their Facebook friends with their real-life circle of confidants, but for the most case this should make sense to millennials. The generation might be a perennial pain for human resource managers because so many of the traits they have reflect that of the companies they work for. Just as employees are a resource for a company, younger generations of workers are beginning to view companies as a stepping stone in their careers. This sometimes leads to job hopping, as we’ve covered before. But in many cases, it leaves the door open for when a workplace situation isn’t ideal.

Less loyalty = more bargaining power

The age group between 18 and 33, known as millennials or sometimes Generation Y, are more loyal to workplace advancement than their paycheck. Often, if given room to grow and meet personal and career goals, they’ll stick around. If that isn’t the case, they’ll look for other offers. This is where the dreaded “Trophy Generation” phenomenon comes into play, according to an article in Psychology Today.

Millennials’ need for immediate glory (the effect produced from everyone getting a participating trophy in Saturday morning soccer clubs) is also what makes them more willing to cut their losses if a job isn’t what they expected. Sherry Buffington, a Dallas-based psychologist, explained in the article that this characteristic is exactly what boosts their position of power in job negotiations. “Millennials know that,” Buffington said. “They’re the most willing to walk because they have no problem with working 15 or 18 jobs in their lifetime. That puts them at an advantage.”

Source: Thinkstock
Source: Thinkstock

Social, professional networks are key

The social networks that younger generations have built around their lives can also be an advantage. What began as purely social antics on Facebook and Twitter has a career look-alike in the form of LinkedIn. And social media is used for so much more than artsy photos of dinner plates. People use these sites not only for posting pictures of their personal lives, but also for keeping in touch with past co-workers and college acquaintances. Those types of behaviors and tools make it easier for people to build a professional network, not just a social one.

It also helps with what Lifehacker author Alan Henry calls the “layoff test.” Henry describes this self-proctored test as a barometer for the health of your professional network. If you were laid off today, do you have 10 people you could call to ask for leads about a new job? If not, Henry evokes the “it takes a friend to be a friend” adage and suggests reaching out to past coworkers to see how they’re doing. Don’t fake it, but keep in contact with the very real possibility that you might one day need to make that call.

Often, social media itself is the tool younger workers use to make sure they have contacts in place. According to the 2014 Spherion Emerging Workforce Study, 47% of milliennials said their social network would be the place they’d start if looking for a new job. That’s almost double those in their parents’ Generation X group, and 27% more than that of baby boomers. That could also be why more millennials thought it would be appropriate for their boss to friend them on social networks, at 44%. As long as they’re not posting about a new job online before giving their two weeks’ notice, that person could one day be a valuable asset for future job searches.

Source: Thinkstock
Source: Thinkstock

The company’s bottom line will trump avoiding layoffs, every time

As the Lifehacker article points out, human resources personnel are there to protect the company. When that is at odds with your well-being, you’re likely to be on your own. This basic life lesson is most clearly showcased in the case of layoffs, when the company’s bottom line is always chief over the loyalty to employees. The human resources staff might even like you, but it’s not going to protect you from a pink slip in the case of company emergencies.

It’s perhaps a pessimistic view, but a company is loyal to no one but itself, especially when it’s public and there are investors and a board of directors holding the reins. It’s part of why companies in bankruptcy like RadioShack have no loyalty to their customers, and it’s why the loyalty also fades for employees. They have to answer to investors.

When trouble really looms, as it did in the recession, layoffs are commonplace. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the total number of significant layoff events (which are classified as 50 or more unemployment claims from one company in a 5-week period) happened in February and March of 2009, with 3,079 and 3,022 events respectively. In just those two months, almost 600,000 Americans lost their jobs in the blink of an eye.

The bureau ironically stopped keeping tabs on layoff events during the 2013 sequestration, when the government mandated the bureau’s $30 million in budget cuts. But based on data from 2013 and before, any given month can yield more than 1,000 layoff events across the country, with more than 100,000 people affected each time. Not only are millennials used to this job landscape, but many of them were brought up in it. The center of the age group was looking for jobs just as the recession hit, and the difficulty of the job search paired with the uncertainty of job security is a familiar concept.

At some point, millennials are going to grow up. They’ll start caring about stability for the sake of their families, and they’ll make decisions that likely look more and more like that of their parents. Isn’t that the circle of life, anyway? But with every generation comes a few changes. What makes millennials look “reckless” or disloyal now might actually be the key to their success, especially because corporations are never going to be their friend, no matter the generations of change.

Follow Nikelle on Twitter @Nikelle_CS