When you're a fresh college graduate, you need to find the right employer and become good at interviewing. But above all, you're concerned with negotiating your first salary because, for many students, college debt is the first material debt we usually take on.
Recently I was heartened to hear of the story of Robert Smith, a billionaire businessman who made the decision to give the entire 2019 graduate class of Morehouse College an incredible gift: repaying all of their student loans.
As I read the story, a few numbers stuck out that weren't surprising, but still shocking to see: A graduating class of just 400 students owed a whopping $40 million in school loans. That an average $100,000 per student, with students who likely owe much less or more. This astronomical number got me thinking.
For some reason, we haven't given Millennials the right to factor in their financial situation when managing their career.
I remember when I graduated from college that my final student loan tally came to about $22,000, which was much higher than the 1999 average of just over $15,000. Despite my higher than average debt, taking on $100,000 in student debt was typically only something aspiring doctors did.
So when you combine today's Millennial being indebted an average of over $37,000 (nearly 150 percent more than my college years), the Great Recession hitting right when Millennials entered the workforce, and the fact that all this century's wage gains have been wiped out by inflation, it becomes clear that Millennials are entering the workforce with a much higher school debt-to-income ratio. The school loan payments of today are the mortgage payments of yesterday.
When I started my first company, a recruiting software startup, I was employing many Millennial-aged workers, and like other managers and employers, I felt they were asking about promotions and salary increases far too soon and too often. Media stories about the entitled Millennial generation reinforced the stereotype.
This entitled attitude is no doubt true sometimes, but I think we need to have more empathy when examining the economics that Millennials face today, and how that impacts their feelings about upward mobility.
These awkward conversations with thirty-something employees are not going away, so here's a few strategies you should employ in order to turn Millennial ambition into both employee and employer success.
1. Try to have a candid conversation about salary.
Like most people, Millennials equate better titles with better salaries, so they clumsily engage their employer and managers about the timing and logistics of promotion. Millennials are new at negotiating bumps to their salary or title, so they're probably going to approach it in a way that seems out of place.
Before you call your Millennial employee a spoiled brat, first try asking them to be candid if they are more concerned about a bigger title or bigger income. If their desire for promotion has mostly to do with improving their salary, you'll feel relieved they aren't simply acting entitled, but rather eager to get help mapping professional growth to financial gain.
2. Create salary bands for your roles.
When a company simply gives you a salary and title, you have no idea what getting a raise looks like, so many Millennials automatically gravitate to title promotions. Ambitious Millennial employees will want to know what triggers the next salary bump. To make sure employees don't only equate better salaries with bigger titles, your company should create two to three salary bands for every position.
Each band should come with a clear description of expected experience, tenure, and performance. You can leverage these bands to create incentives for the Millennial to achieve certain milestones or performance without getting into job promotion until it's truly warranted. Each band provides a guidepost for your Millennial earning that next few hundred dollars per month while staying in the same job.
3. Create a roadmap for the employee promotion.
Using a spreadsheet or employee engagement software, define the employee's next desired position, outlining the skills and responsibilities required of that role. Commit to coaching the employee on the skills and measuring skill attainment proactively.
Ideally, you should continue to assign responsibilities from the new role to your employee, adding to their skills set gradually. This model ensures they feel tangible efforts towards helping their career move forward, while keeping the conversation about promotion honest and tied to performance.
Millennials are now the majority of the U.S. workforce, so now is the time to stop looking at them as spoiled and entitled, and start seeing them as a generation of workers deeper in debt and in need of your guidance as to how they can accelerate their careers and earn more money. If you create a culture where Millennials are only as patient as their performance gains, everyone wins.