Most people who are new in the workforce don’t know how they come across. This has been true for as far back as “the office” has been a thing. What I wish I knew was how to use language differently, and how to ask for help. Instead, I found a world that seemed impatient, unkind, and left me feeling really misunderstood and even hurt.
Why Newbies Are “Entitled”, And What Seasoned Professionals Can Do About It
At my first job, I had a list of questions for interviewees, all of whom had cancer. From each interview, I typed notes and sent them to my boss.
This project lasted a couple of weeks. I enjoyed the work and revelled in the praise I received.
It felt good to be part of something important. Listening to the challenges of cancer patients left me feeling a strong sense of purpose. I knew how to succeed at interviewing. Sadly, that project came to an end.
A Generation Y Newbie Asks For A Mentor
I ended up in a new role, planning large scale meetings.
I had never planned a meeting. I had never needed to use the skills this position required. I knew very little about Microsoft Excel or budgeting.
Overwhelmed, I asked for help from a colleague with years of experience. I told her that I needed help, hoping that she would mentor me.
Instead, her response was more closely aligned with, “Figure it out.”
I didn’t know where else to go for help. I was new to the east coast, new to the workforce, new to the city, and in 2004, online resources were significantly more limited.
Driven to do a good job (but not knowing how to succeed), I felt anxious, lonely, and terrified of failing.
Not Knowing I Was Perceived As A Threat
Being young, optimistic, and unjaded, my colleague’s lack of support didn’t make any sense. When I asked for examples from previous events, she said there were none. I took it personally. I thought there was something I did to aggravate her.
I was too new to understand workplace politics. I thought that we were all working toward the common goal of helping the company succeed.
Despite my best efforts to become a successful meeting planner, I floundered.
I needed to find a better use of my energy and skills. Over several weeks, I researched the company and read every document they had published during their 25 year history.
Now, I Thought, I would Be An Asset
Feeling empowered, I was excited to demonstrate the extra hard work I had put in.
I presented to the director of human resources, Christina.
“Misti, you need to share this research with Rosen (the CEO),” Christina suggested. I assumed that I had impressed Christina.
Walking In Young And Overconfident
I walked into that meeting with Rosen confident (maybe even a bit cocky).
During my presentation, she seemed intrigued. I imagined she would be telling everyone about my greatness. Instead, she looked at me and said, “Misti, what did your parents do with you? It’s clear you have problems with anxiety. Do you take medication for that?”
I hadn’t realized that giving the presentation was a risk.
I was embarrassed, because I thought there was something I should have known (or done differently) to succeed.
Hadn’t I demonstrated my commitment and abilities?
Didn’t she want to help me succeed? Wouldn’t helping me succeed help her to succeed?
Couldn’t she see that I wanted to do a good job, but that I didn’t know the rules of the game?
Maybe she saw all of those things. Ultimately, it didn’t matter. Primarily what she saw was an impatient and entitled newbie.
What The CEO Couldn’t See
She couldn’t see that the anxiety I was feeling was normal, nor how my “newness” could have been an asset.
With a little direction, as well as the benefit of her years of experience, she could have helped me focus, capitalizing on my energy and enthusiasm. Instead, she likely assumed that I was lazy, impatient, entitled, and unwilling to pay my dues.
Her assumptions left me feeling like an annoying, inadequate gnat.
What I needed was someone to see and nurture my strengths, while helping me produce valuable results. Her three little sentences squashed the life out me.
Like many young people, I was looking for her approval. I wanted her to help me see that I was capable, smart, and that my future was bright.
Perceiving that the bridge back to worth was going to be too long, I felt like I had to move on.
Broke In Bethesda
The next day, I turned in my letter of resignation. Simultaneously, I realized I had just $37 to my name.
I was clueless. But I figured out how to pay the bills.
Skilled in massage therapy and fitness training, I found clients. I also opened the yellow pages (it was 2004) and started my search for people in jobs that interested me. Six months later, I had completed nearly 150 informational interviews.
During those six months, I heard many leaders express frustration with the laziness of “these young professionals.”
That led me to researching generational diversity. The more I read, the more I realized that my experience was not unique. In 2004, Generation Y was successfully irritating leaders across industries. Most leaders didn’t know what to do with this cadre of needy newbies.
(The same headlines about “this new generation” were in print when the Baby Boomers entered the workforce in the 1970’s. Leading ambitious and overzealous newbies was not a new problem.)
Newbies thought they should be receiving promotions and progressing rapidly (just a couple of months into their jobs). Boomers did not know how to deal with this new generation. Today, many experienced professionals were (and still are) baffled by Millennials who believe, on day one, that they have what it takes to do their boss’s boss’s job.
This offends and irritates many leaders. Instead, it could inspire and excite those same leaders.
We All Have Struggles
We all have challenges (negative self-talk and, self-esteem challenges). Most new professionals have a deep desire to achieve, and to be recognized along the way.
With enormous pressure to succeed, new professionals can easily get caught up in thinking they should already know. Some don’t even know they need help. They assume that if the project is given to them, then they should know how to do it.
This leads to frustration and disengagement, or even more destructive workplace behaviors.
What’s It Like To Be New?
If you’re new to a position, you are excited. You were picked for the opportunity. You want to show how committed you are.You’re filled with hope.
You want to succeed.
However, newbies are often unaware of the help they need, or how to ask for it.
Rather than helping new professionals succeed by offering direction, skills, and support, employers and experienced professionals often toss in the towel and blame it on “the laziness of this new generation.”
As a newbie, I was impatiently striving to succeed and contribute. I cared about the mission and wanted (no, needed) to make a difference.
Making a tangible difference would help with the internal questioning I had (which many of us have).
But I didn’t know how to succeed. I did not suspect my drive would come across as impatience. I did what I thought might work, and it backfired.
Gifts (Sometimes) Come Wrapped In Difficult Situations
Honestly, I’m grateful for this entry to the workforce.The experience led me to the work I do today—helping leaders cultivate engagement and collaboration across generations.
I’m still baffled by the number of leaders who misunderstand the drive of newbies; especially newbies who are really seeking to prove themselves.
What’s Missing For Newbies and Experienced Professionals
After nearly a decade of speaking and coaching on this topic, I came to realize that generational differences (an asset) become a problem (liability) when these three elements are missing:
- Clear direction
- Helpful feedback
- Opportunities for advancement
This led to further research about companies and teams where generational conflict is a non-issue.
While often radically different in culture, companies that have a collaborative and engaged workforce are lead by people who:
- Care about their employees.
- Know what they’re striving to accomplish.
- Know why reaching success matters.
- Communicate progress and roadblocks often.
- Clarify roles while fostering a collaborative mindset.
- Provide feedback almost daily.
- Focus on advancement.
- Celebrate milestones reached.
- Foster community in the workplace.
Leaders Benefiting From Generational Differences
Companies that turn generational conflict into an asset are focused, communicative, and dedicated to helping employees succeed. They’re willing to have difficult conversations, which leads to depth in connection and dedicated team members.
They get to know their employees’ goals, and work at helping them succeed. This is true regardless of whether they spend their entire career at the company or move on to other opportunities.
While there is no such thing as a perfect company culture, the companies that attract great talent are the same companies that nurture it. They find a way to get past the discomfort of giving (and receiving) honest feedback. They consistently celebrate big and small successes.
Progress is contagious, and people want to be a part of it.
Misti Burmeister has been helping leaders boost engagement and productivity across generations for more than 15 years. Help your team reach its highest potential at https://MistiBurmeister.com