We’re young, we’re broke, we work hard. Pay us well please?

We’re young, we’re broke, we work hard. Pay us well please?

This piece was originally published on Medium and has been republished here with the author's permission.

Most major disagreements stem from the reluctance of one side to concede or empathise with the other, and attempt to find some sort of consensus. This is playing out more potently than ever in the Jamaican job market today.

These damn millennials

On one hand, you have older Jamaicans (who often are gatekeepers for employment), whose frequent complaint about millennials (defined for this post as people born between 1982 and 2004) is that they’re lazy, entitled, idle and need to be given special treatment that employers don’t have the time for. They expect you to show up, work from 9–5, follow all the organisation’s rules (without question) and collect your salary at the end of the month.

To these older Jamaicans, we’re our own worst enemies; unwilling to go through hardship like they did at our age and wait our turn to get to the top. They see ‘millennials’ (I hate the word) as the very antithesis of the ideology that ‘with age comes wisdom.’ Depending on who you talk to, you can expect a story about moving from country to Kingston and not knowing how your tuition will be paid, or a story about walking barefoot for miles to school, or about doing multiple odd jobs to survive until they got their big break.

We get it. Us, the generation after you (or the one after the one after you) get it. In your experience, struggle builds character. Isn’t it fair however, to think that your struggles as a generation would pave the way for an easier life for us? As the world has changed, younger people can’t expect to go through the exact same struggles as the generation(s) before us — you faced these challenges so we don’t have to.

Pardon us however, if we accuse you of being out of touch, disconnected and unwilling to listen or understand. The criticisms leveled at young people now are the same that have been used across history, the only thing that has changed is the language and the way we spend our free time.

Educated, (Under)Employed and Underpaid

On the flip side of the Older Jamaican v. Millennial debate are young Jamaicans. One of the older people I know (who gets it) puts it aptly “you are the best educated generation, but you’re also broke.” She continued: “Most of you have degrees, but you’ve taken on so much debt to get to that point that it’s ridiculous.”

It’s true; in the U.S., over 1.3 trillion dollars is owed in student loans across 44 million borrowers (total figure not available for Jamaica). This comes with the local context of consistently increasing University enrollment, with the UWI Mona enrolling over 17,000 students as of semester 1 2016.

Young Jamaicans operate in a form of duality, where we have vast amounts of knowledge about what happens in a global context.

We’re aware of the trends in our fields, are in tune with the latest technology, and are aware of our worth in the workforce. This builds up (sometimes unrealistic) expectations of what the world will offer. The duality presents itself in a Jamaican work culture that hasn’t changed very much in the past few decades. Seniority is the golden rule in most organisations, and the youth voice is in some cases deliberately stamped out. Organisations expect you to grow with them and work your way up the ranks, but this generation is the most likely to leave if their needs aren’t being met, spending on average 4.4 years in one job. This is in contrast to generations above us where people would have jobs for life.

The ‘lazy millennial’ myth

Partly due to the fact that as a generation, we’re always active online, it’s assumed that younger Jamaicans are somehow less productive than persons older than us. The scary reality is that we’re even more likely to have an unhealthy relationship with work. We’re already expected to be lazy, and to counter that we go to extremes — bringing work home, juggling multiple projects and even foregoing vacation time (not like we can afford vacations. LOL) to prove the point that we bring worth to the table. Yes, we do sometimes take (for some people, medically-enforced) breaks, but this is due in part to the fact that we’re also more aware of our mental health than generations above us.

We’re no less lazy than any other generation in the workforce, however we are more connected and more able to multitask.

Working with millennials

Younger people want similar things everyone else does. We want to feel valued in our work, we want adequate compensation, we want time to pursue our other life interests and goals. What we value over job security is purpose and fulfillment in the work that we do, which necessitates two factors:

Value — Many of us are averse to micromanagement. Give us a task to complete, provide guidance or an example of how ideally the end result should look and provide feedback and coaching after the work is done. We appreciate being in charge of ourselves and projects.

Adequate compensation — Most of us know what global salaries in our field and for our posts look. A lot of persons are also carrying student loan debt. Be considerate of this in salary negotiations. Even though local salary data isn’t public, ensure that hiring discussions involve compensation. If you can’t meet someone’s value, look at other incentives that may make your organisation more attractive -- days off to pursue other interests, lunch allowances, paid learning opportunities). You end up with a happier employee and your organisation benefits.

Coming to a Consensus

The truth is, every generation has lessons it can teach another, and there is always common ground to be found. It helps to understand others’ point of view when we look at them not in terms of cliches and blanket statements, but in terms of their experiences, desires, what we can learn from them and achieve together.

Millennials aren’t lazy, and older Jamaicans aren’t as unwilling to change as it appears on the surface. In my own personal opinion, I know of quite a few employers who understand the levels of flexibility needed for millennials to be their most effective and their companies have benefitted as a result.

Jean-Pierre Kavanaugh is a graduate of the Caribbean Institute of Media and Communications and currently serves at Lead Creative of PriDEJA Magazine. He has previously worked with United Nations Free and Equal. He is the director and producer of Brotherhood, an award-winning film about two Jamaican transmen. He can be found on Twitter at @JKavJa.

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