By: Misti Burmeister

“The elevator to success is out of order. You’ll have to take the stairs … one step at a time”
– Joe Girard

During a recent networking function, I had a great conversation about young professionals with an older gentleman—I’ll call him Bill—in the insurance sales industry. He mentioned how difficult it is to find young professionals willing to put time in and “pay their dues” – “they want to have it all without putting forth any effort.”

Curious, I asked Bill what he meant by “paying dues.” He launched into how he began his career: “I started with few connections and worked hard to build them over time – now I have a business of my own and am doing very well.” He went on, “I stayed focused, worked extra hours and always gave more then I promised. Today’s young people are very focused on themselves – that’s not how you build a career! They need to take the attention off themselves and start looking for ways to build a positive reputation.”

Bill, like many Boomers, assumes Generation Yers define “paying your dues” the same way they do. However, many Generation Yers actually have a negative impression of the phrase “paying your dues.”

Recently, I sent out an email to Generation Yers regarding this whole “paying your dues” concept. I got some great responses – here are two bold statements:

“The term ‘pay your dues’ is used by people who feel like they are ‘owed’ something because of the work they’ve done, and want to lord their experience over those who haven’t had the chance to get it yet. It’s most often used to discourage people, and to make those who feel like they have “paid their dues” feel superior. It’s an outdated phrase with entirely too much negative connotation to be worth using for any reason other than to boost your own ego.”

“‘Pay your dues’ is a small minded comment. An incompetent middle manager once uttered this phrase to me in a review. I instantly dismissed the comment in my mind. For me, this damaged the manager’s credibility from that moment forward. An alarm went off that this person approaches life much differently than I do. Talking through the comment, seeking to understand his point of view, it became evident that this thought process was somehow in his DNA and his opinion wasn’t going to change. Personally, I don’t owe anyone anything and experience doesn’t always impress me.”

If your goal is to motivate and encourage Generation Yers to build credibility and show their capabilities over time, you might consider using some different tactics. Here are a few ways the Generation Yers I polled suggested they like to be motivated:

  • How you say it is important. “if they want to talk to me about building credibility, then they should talk about the importance of building that credibility. Then I’d see where they were coming from – not from the perspective of, ‘You haven’t done this yet, you slacker, and I have!’ But instead from the perspective of, ‘Hey, this’d help you out. You might want to look at it.’”
  • Helping them build their reputation. “A co-worker of mine, who I have grown to trust and respect, has 35+ years with the company. He is mild mannered and motivates me in ways that I never thought possible, given his “hands off – laid back” style. As you know, these are traits that don’t necessarily describe me. He gave me some very simple advice when I started, that I have always kept in mind. He said: ‘Your reputation is your responsibility.’ People will always look to define you – put you in a box – don’t let them! Once you establish credibility, it is yours to lose.”
  • Teach them. “Someone trying to discuss credibility with me should let me know what I can do to build my credibility. Credibility could also be a behavior issue – if I were acting silly or immature at work this might affect my credibility. Someone may approach that by just saying, ‘Kara, you might want to watch the way you….’ Maybe I am just not aware of what I am doing. If it becomes a bigger issue, then a more formal discussion would have to take place, and perhaps during a performance review.”
  • Help them see how they are coming across. “It is important to be up front. If I have done something to damage my credibility it should be brought to my attention, but hopefully with a solution in mind to help start the repair process.”

The concept behind “paying your dues” is important. Staying focused on imparting the concept and shifting your approach can make all the difference in the world. If your goal is to get your Generation Yers to do things the way you did, chances are, you will lose your ability to influence them. If your goal is to help your Generation Yers to see the importance of building credibility, speak it in their language – help them understand what they need to do and how it will benefit them. In the end, making these small changes in language and attitude will benefit everyone!