How to Entice Millennials Back to Corporate Life
On Friday morning, I woke up at 4:40 a.m. to get to the gym for a 5:30 workout. My days always go better when I wake up early and have a clear head. A quick shower and a coffee-stop later, I’m at the Beauty Lounge by 7:30 for a cut and color. I catch up with my hairstylist, shoot off some emails, and call a potential investor. I head over to the Blu Dot furniture showroom to meet my business partner at 11 a.m. to find a replacement piece for our space, and I “accidentally” find something for myself.
In the afternoon, I meet with our business financial advisor, call the accountant, connect with members of the co-working community I co-founded, help move artwork in the office, plan our New York investor trip, and head home by 5 p.m. to pick up the kids from day care. After dinner, storytime, bedtime, storytime again, and bedtime again, I pour myself some tea, flip open my laptop, and get a freelance project in under the deadline.
It’s not glamorous, but it’s the life I chose over continuing on the corporate path. You could say it’s because I’m a millennial, but you could also say it’s because I have that itch to put more good in the world by building something in partnership with people I love. The truth is, that’s the kind of passion and purpose many people in my generation are looking for.
Solopreneurs and freelance talent are expected to be the majority of the workforce by 2027, so companies have to think of new, innovative ways to keep people in traditional jobs. Millennials are the largest generation in the workforce, so it’s time to start figuring them out.
Contrary to popular belief, my generation isn’t leaving the workplace in droves because we don’t like to work or put in our time. I would argue we work just as hard as any other generation, but with higher debt and lower income. I can’t speak for every millennial—we come at life from many perspectives, shaped by race, gender, socioeconomics, education, and more. I’ve written in previous columns about the value of recognizing an employee’s whole self. It’s what anyone wants out of a workplace.
Now that I’ve started my own business, it would take a whole lot more than an office with an open floor plan, space-age-style couches, and a Ping-Pong table to woo me away from the sometimes grueling, always rewarding, life of an entrepreneur. So what would persuade me to return to corporate life? Here are a few things that might:
I left my corporate job for many reasons, but one of them was because I realized how short life is. I want to do work that brings me joy. If I’m going to be away from my kids for most of the days and some weekends, I want to do something that makes a positive difference. Not every job can answer this call every day, but I want opportunities to leave this place better than how I found it.
While I don’t need a blue ribbon every time I do something right, I crave feedback in the moment. Most important, I want to know what I did wrong and how I can be a better employee. I can learn quickly, but I need to know your expectations and how I can best meet them.
If millennials are participating in the workforce in new and exciting ways, it’s time for corporations to evolve their structures. As a millennial, I would look for opportunities to truly start or own something. Companies should explore how they can create entrepreneurial environments and opportunities to try (and sometimes fail).
If I’m going to stay somewhere, I want to know I’ve got a path to leadership. I want training, development, and mentorship to help me get to the next level with a realistic timeline and salary expectations. I don’t need to be the CEO tomorrow, but I want transparency about what it takes to get there. I know I’m going to have a salary increase jumping from job to job, so my allegiances may not lie with your company, but with my bank account.
Health insurance that I understand.
My husband and I are both entrepreneurs, so we’re on our own for insurance these days, and navigating all of it is confusing and time-consuming. With two kids and variable incomes, it’s hard to know what the right plan is for us. A company that provides excellent coverage and navigation support is appealing to a recovering entrepreneur.
Purpose, validation, growth potential, support. Those seem like basic asks for employees of any age, not unrealistic millennial demands. Perhaps we’re not so different after all—except for my weakness for avocado toast.
Alex West Steinman is co-founder of The Coven, a community and workspace for women and non-binary people. She is also a public relations consultant, freelance content writer, and mother of two toddlers.