GenZ and Millennials
Thanks to the 2017 UK election result the young – and especially students and graduates – have become centre-stage politically. Reuters

Since June's UK General Election, commentators and political analysts have been scrambling to fathom a previously discarded voter-bloc: the young. Such was the electoral tardiness of the 18-24 cohort, even pollsters discounted their views.

No longer. Thanks to the 2017 election result the young – and especially students and graduates – have become centre-stage politically, with the accepted notion of "millennial" apathy (at least beyond social media feeds and single-issue protests) blown away.

The Conservatives now need to court idealistic millennials, an uphill battle given their economically grittier and more pragmatic outlook. Early efforts from Thatcherite think-tanks have been hamfisted, to say the least.

And it's not difficult to imagine the awkwardness at Conservatives' Central HQ as they ponder questions such as "what on earth do these millennials want?" "why do they seem so angry?" and "what exactly is a snowflake?".

In this respect they could do worse than ask the many employers that were not only ignored (or worse) by the Conservatives during their appalling election campaign, but have been grappling with the "what millennials want" question since those born after 1984 started graduating a little over a decade ago.

Certainly, I've been employing young graduates into our financial public relations firm for 15 years, so have a reasonable handle on both the needs and desire of millennials – at least as employees – and some of the myths.

And myth Number One – as expressed in a recent interview (that's since gone viral) with leadership-guru Simon Sinek – is the suggestion that millennials are "entitled, narcissistic, self-interested, unfocused and lazy."

That's some rap, but is it true? Or, more pertinently, is it true beyond any previous description of the young? Certainly, most of the graduates I employ arrive with entirely the wrong attitude for the job, usually only revealed once through the interview process.

This can sometimes be blamed on their conviction that – having graduated – the world somehow owes them a living, although can just as often be blamed on the inherent anti-business bias fed to them at university and reinforced by their favourite media.

Most have developed deep prejudices against capitalism – and corporate life generally – that can be highly-disabling for a career in financial PR, or pretty much anywhere else in the private sector.

But I left university with the same prejudices. I assumed I knew everything there was to know about capitalism: that it was, at best, a necessary evil, though one aimed at making the rich richer, usually through exploiting the vulnerable.

It took me years in the workplace to finally "get it" – that for all its faults capitalism is the world's most extraordinary tool for eradicating global poverty. The difference then was that my elders and betters didn't give a fig for my views. I was simply told to get on with it and, if I objected – well, have you seen the unemployment figures lately?

Now we're at near full employment and our creative services industry is booming – crying out for the very humanities graduates afflicted with the same chippy nonsense injected by the same universities.

So the change is not in the graduates but in the economic circumstances in which they operate – meaning their views are now valid for the sole reason the graduates themselves are a more valued commodity. It's our attitudes as employers that has to change: hence the faux and clumsy left-wingery of even senior executives in many creative or tech companies.

Graduate maturity

In fact, given their advantages – and their youth – I'm continually surprised by the maturity of the graduates that come through our doors. According to Sinek, millennials demand "to work in a workplace with purpose", "they want to make an impact", and they want "free food and beanbags".

Yet that's not my experience. Make no mistake, as a financial PR firm we are part of the "Devil's machinery" – propagating banks and other nasty capitalists. And this can bother them, at least initially.

But they soon realise that the clumsy PR of some larger agencies – so jarringly exposed by the recent Bell Pottinger scandal – is but a small fragment of the PR world, with many small agencies, indeed, doing valuable work "with purpose" that, yes, "makes an impact" (in our case, to trade, to development and to financial inclusion).

Technology in the office
There's one thing millennial graduates absolutely insist upon: learning. Reuters

One thing that seems very obvious to them (though I remind them anyway) is that, the bigger the entity, the more noise the company needs to make regarding "values" and "purpose" – as well as their employee's role in the "bigger picture".

They're normally the ones offering free food and beanbags too – usually to make up for the drudgery graduates are subjected to in the early years. Smaller employers, meanwhile, will have their graduates working on core projects immediately, which through necessity gives their job instant "meaning", though we've no room for any beanbags.

Learning critical to their well-being

Yet there's one thing millennial graduates absolutely insist upon: learning. We have to offer them an environment in which they are constantly developing their skills and deepening their knowledge, and woe betide us if that ever slips from our core focus.

If not constantly challenged, they quickly become bored and demotivated. And they have no problem making this known to their seniors, as well as to all those headhunters that seem to be constantly sharking our juniors.

In fact, working with "seniors" at all presents its problems. Most appreciate hierarchy – especially once they start climbing the ladder. But millennials quickly become allergic to taking instruction for the sake of it. They have to respect their betters, which keeps those above them very much on their toes.

Yet, again, I was no different. I hated taking instruction, though had less recourse if I disrespected my seniors. So while I had to endure some dreadful bosses as a consequence, the economic power of the millennials has made me a better boss – one having to listen rather than just instruct and one forced to allow them their contribution.

And boy do they contribute. With their talents unleashed, our graduates are full of ideas and brimming with verve – quickly turning themselves into profitable productive units capable of adding value to even the thorniest accounts.

The burden of debt

But it's not all sunny upside. Most graduates arrive burdened by student debt and more than a little hacked off by London's housing inequities. And this impacts their attitude. I notice those without the "student loan" line on their payslips usually have a sunnier outlook and settle into corporate life easier (often aided by previous internships with Uncle Rupert). They also somehow manage the whole London housing thing to their advantage.

Those with debts to clear tend to be grumpier. But I see their payslips and that "student loan" line looks like a tax on the less-advantaged to me, which is exactly how they see it. Add that to the extortionate rents they pay to live in London and it's not difficult to see why an "us and them" culture emerges – as well as how Jeremy Corbyn's brand of Pied Piper politics seems so attractive.

And if that's being "entitled" "self-interested" and a "snowflake" I'd like to know what that made us!


Robert Kelsey is the bestselling author of a series of "anti-self help, self help" books, including What's Stopping You?, Get Things Done and The Outside Edge. The former financial journalist and investment banker is also the deputy chairman of entrepreneurial think tank The Centre for Entrepreneurs which he co-founded with serial entrepreneur Luke Johnson.