Science of Success

A 'millennial therapist' explains why young people hate their jobs―and what to do about it

"Parks and Recreation" - Season 5
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While waiting in line at the grocery store one night, I overheard a man venting about his millennial employees.

"Their minds are always elsewhere," he said as his wife nodded in agreement. "They're entitled, disengaged, lazy and hard to manage."

As a Gen X'er, I've heard just about every millennial stereotype imaginable. But as a therapist who has been working with millennials (they make up 90% of my patients) for more than than five years, I've actually found them to be a highly intelligent, idealistic, diverse and ambitious bunch.

Like any other generation, millennials have a lot of issues to work through. But I had to agree with the guy ― to an extent: Most millennials do struggle at work.

Each and every one of my millennial patients has at one point said to me: "I hate my job." (It always makes me think of Johnny Paycheck's classic hit "Take This Job and Shove It.")

Why young people hate their jobs

Millennials dominate the workforce, but according to a 2016 Gallup poll, 71% of them aren't engaged at work ― and at least 60% are open to new job opportunities.

Gallup's research, which combined 30 separate studies and data from more than 1 million respondents, found that the millennial workforce is predominantly checked out.

"They aren't putting energy or passion into their jobs," according to Gallup's researchers. "They're indifferent about work and simply show up just to put in the hours."

There are many potential reasons as to why millennial work engagement is so low, but there are some of the biggest ones:

  • Unrealistically high expectations of what their day-to-day work lives would be like
  • Impatience and frustration because they want career advancement in months vs. years
  • Social media overload, which can create a distorted reality where everyone else seems to have an amazing life
  • Employers who aren't providing new opportunities or compelling reasons for them to stick around

Losing the 'I hate my job' mentality

Not everyone hates their jobs for the same reasons. Maybe they work in a toxic work culture or there's a lack of positive reinforcement from management.

But based on my experience working with hundreds of millennial patients, the biggest reason is that the realities of the workplace didn't match their expectations. If you're a millennial who falls under this category, here's my advice:

1. Stop saying, "I hate my job"

Almost everyone I know, regardless of their generation, has worked a job they hated. It's essentially a right of passage into adulthood.

I can't stress enough the importance of cultivating and prioritizing strong and healthy relationships.

But complaining won't get you anywhere. So instead of saying, "I hate my job," challenge yourself to dig deeper into what exactly it is about your job that makes you unhappy. Maybe you're upset you didn't get a promotion or maybe you feel you're too advanced for the responsibilities you've been given.

Once you identify your reasons, ask yourself: What is within my control to change?

If you didn't get that promotion, why not ask your boss what it'll take to get it? If you think you're ready to take on bigger challenges, why not take initiative on other tasks to prove you can add even more value to the company?

2. Lower your expectations, raise your standards

Expectations and standards are not the same. Let's differentiate:

  • An expectation is a person's strong belief that something will or won't happen. Because it's more fictitious than factual, it can often lead to disappointment when the anticipated result isn't achieved. It's important to remember that expectations are beliefs, not facts.
  • A person's standard, on the other hand, is a level of quality that they're willing to accept as the norm. It becomes their foundation of judgment. Standards are rooted in facts, data or patterns, and can create a framework for making decisions that are consistent with one's values.

In order to balance the two, work on holding your standards in a high place, while not expecting those standards to be met 100% of the time. It's all about control ― and in this case, the only things within your control are the standards you set for yourself and for those around you.

3. Weigh your options and be patient

Millennials are widely known for prioritizing purpose over paycheck when it comes to choosing a job, which is indeed admirable.

But before you decide to quit and start applying to different jobs, take some time to figure out what you really value and what kind of impact you want to have.

Almost everyone I know, regardless of their generation, has worked a job they hated. It's a right of passage into adulthood.

Once you start to understand the things that truly matter to you, it'll be easier to find a job that fits you best. Also keep in mind that you're not going to land your dream job right away.

Successful people focus on what they can learn from their current role and how the skills and experience they take away can attract bigger opportunities. Patience is key, and it'll likely be years before you can proudly say, "I love my job."

4. Be kind to yourself

Two things not to do when you job makes you feel angry, stressed or frustrated:

  1. Internalize them
  2. Turn to social media for comfort

Instead, reach out to your friends, family, co-workers, mentors or even a therapist for support. I can't stress enough the importance of cultivating and prioritizing strong and healthy relationships. Reaching out to people who genuinely care and will listen to you is one of the most effective ways to cope with stress.

Tess Brigham is a San Francisco-based psychotherapist and certified life coach. She has more than 10 years of experience in the field and primarily works with millennials and parents of millennials.

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