I am a millennial. There, I said it. I feel a whole lot better now.
The word has a whole host of negative connotations. We are the work shy bunch. You know, the ones for whom the phrase “It wasn’t like that in my day” is most applicable. We are the entitlement generation. We want it all, but aren’t prepared to work for it. We are directionless, value work-life balance over good ol’ hard work, and lack any discernible amount of motivation. We are at odds with our baby boomer counterparts, the people who made Britain great through a their work ethic and a stiff upper lip. They’ve had that accusatory look ever since I knew what an accusatory look looked like. And I know my looks!
Banking is one of the flagship industries that is affected by our attitude. Our search for work / life balance is at odds with all a career in banking stands for. The late nights, working weekends, and motivation by what only seems to be the quest for more and more cash – all attitudes contra our desire for meaning, fulfilment and higher purpose. And, as a result, the banking industry is losing out on the best in graduate talent, as reported by Harriet Agnew in the Financial Times (“Millennials look to tech stars as finance careers leave them cold“).
Simon Collins, the UK chairman of KPMG says that “My generation was easy (to motivate). You threw scraps of cash at us and kicked us. Millennials are looking for meaning in life, which I don’t think our generation was.” In years gone by, the financial rewards of the banking industry were too hard to resist. The generation previous, wowed by the potential for untold riches, entered the career in their droves. The price paid for such a lucrative career was often a high one, with working days merging into working nights, and working weeks turning into working weekends. This culture has been engrained since time immemorial and it is a culture millennials are keen to avoid.
Banks have tried to redress the balance with PR campaigns such as “protected weekends” and “discouraging working at weekends”. In a culture where hard work is engrained, this is easier said than done. Pressure from peers who have been through the process remains present, and new employees still feel obliged to work until their eyeballs bleed. As a result, cool, entrepreneurial companies such as Google and Facebook enjoy an almost angelic reputation. Hammocks in the workplace, time to work on your own projects, a culture of hoodies and table tennis seem to make a mockery of the stuffy and outmoded practices of the banks. Millennials in their droves are attracted to such companies, and they are syphoning talent from the bank’s pipelines.
Are millennials’ attitudes so far removed from what is required to be successful in banking? I don’t think so. We receive a lot of criticism for our outlook and apathy towards work, but I think this is mostly unfair. Our approach to work has been formed by our parents. We are a generation parented by these bankers and white collar workers, and they project their apathy to the system where they have formed their career. We are eternally told to “follow our dreams” and that “life is too short”, often by people who have spent a lifetime as a perceived victim of the system. We have been convinced that there is more to life, an attitude which can often have negative consequences. The search for meaning and fulfilment, the sense of a higher purpose, can be depressing. Quite often, finding a purpose is nigh on impossible. To my knowledge, no one has worked out the meaning of life, and, at the time of writing, it still remains a difficult question to answer. If you are convinced that there is an eternal meaning, but what you are doing right now is certainly not it, then your outlook on life is somewhat troubled and maligned.
It may be said that our generation are attracted to Google, Facebook and Apple because they are youthful, cool, vibrant and entrepreneurial. I believe this to be false. What these companies do better than the banks, is communicate in the way we do. They make YouTube videos, they write blogs, they tweet regularly, they get their senior people to interact with us on some platform or other. You get a direct insight into their company’s culture and mentality because you can see it. You see it on the platforms we use and in the places we hang out, which, nowadays, happens to be online. The work will fluctuate from exciting to dull equally as much as the work in banking does.
Banks do not speak to us in the same way. Our lines of communication have been primarily through the newspapers, newspapers that have done nothing but report negativity for the past 10 or so years. We want to look them up on Twitter, but their accounts are formulaic and soul-less, further enforcing the exact perceptions we have of the industry. We want you to tell us a story. Why did you work an all nighter that time? was it to pull off some spectacular IPO? How did you celebrate your last big deal? What do you do when you get some spare time? What are meetings like? What is the vibe like around bonus time? We want insights into what gives the company energy. I would work all night if I knew I was finalising the IPO of snapchat. That’d be cool. Work / life balance is something we seek when the work we are doing is boring and uninspiring. Banking will have many aspects that are quite the opposite, we just need to see those aspects on the platforms we use and in the media we consume.
Millennials are motivated by a sense of purpose. That purpose can be working as part of a team who are doing everything in their power to pull off a deal. We need to feel part of something big. Banks are as big as it gets. You guys practically earn all the money for the country. Millions are relying on the prosperity you bring to our shores. That is a purpose worth striving for. Google and Facebook have a great back story, told through the channels us millennials frequent. They openly state that they are trying to change the world. Banks have just as much ability to do this. Tell us how, show us your reason for existence, and we’ll get excited.