Stereotyping Millennials has become a cottage industry. Books, sitcoms, NetFlix series, psychologists, (even Lucas Group recruiters), have written extensively on Millennials. In recruiting alone, Millennials have given new meaning to how people seek and retain this generation.
There are several characteristics attributed to us (yes, I’m one of them). But if you were on Family Feud and Steve Harvey asked you to buzz in with the top three attributes possessed by Millennials, you would undoubtedly pound that buzzer and scream “LAZY”. Flash to the audience tote board and ding, ding, ding you’d have matched the No. 1 answer and your family would take the play.
They’re Millennials. They have no work ethic. Right?
Actually, that’s wrong and I’m the living embodiment of the anti-stereotype. More importantly, I’m here to sound like those retiring boomers and tell my Millennial peers that work ethic is important. In fact, it may be the most important trait to possess in searching for the truly rewarding career track.
Helping to debunk the Lazy Millennials stereotype is Keith Zabel, a professor at Wayne State University. Last year, he and his colleagues analyzed the results of 77 work ethic studies conducted between 1960 and 2015. Surprisingly, Zabel’s research found no difference in how Baby Boomers answered work ethic questions in the 60s and how Millennials answered them in the Tweens. What they did find, however, is that work ethic does improve over time. In other words, it’s not because you’re a Baby Boomer that you have a great work ethic, it’s because you’re 57.
With that stereotype shattered, I return to the premise of today’s blog: work ethic matters when recruiting and hiring top talent. Employers are certainly looking for people who meet their search criteria. But more importantly, they’re looking for people who bring a passion for their work into the office.
I know. I learned the hard way. Let me tell you a story.
About ten years ago, I was proud to call myself a cadet at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT. The Academy is a challenging place. Of the 274 cadets admitted in 2006, only 196 graduated. That’s a high attrition rate for such capable high school students attending a school of their dreams. And I came perilously close to being one of them.
It was another beautiful December morning in New London and the brief walk from the dorm to the building for my final exam had already left me shivering, cold, and numb. Once inside, I sat down at a table and got out my pencil, eraser, and calculator prepared for my final attempt to remain in school. No pressure but I needed 117 percent on the test or I would flunk out of the Academy. Sounds challenging, doesn’t it? That semester, I was averaging a 39 on my tests! In five minutes, I was done filling in the tiny bubbles on the test sheet. My fate was sealed…one way or another.
How had I gotten to this point? I carried a 4.0+ GPA in high school. I was a varsity athlete. How could I flunk out?
Simple. I had a lousy attitude and a disgraceful work ethic.
I failed the test but was fortunate enough to be given the chance to switch majors from mechanical engineering to operations research and computer analysis and remain a Cadet. Having placed myself in the academic graveyard, I made major adjustments to my lifestyle and work ethic.
It wasn’t easy. I jettisoned a few friends. I put progress ahead of partying. I learned how to grind my way through tough math courses. I did every homework assignment in the math building; had them reviewed by my professors; continually asked questions; and got back on track for graduation.
Following an old axiom often attributed to Vince Lombardi), I exerted more academic firepower than I ever thought I had. And it worked. The next semester, my GPA zoomed from a 1.94 to the upper 2.0s and I broke 3.0 for two of my last four semesters.
Me ethic was emboldened because I was tired of being punched in the face…literally. I boxed for the Academy. The conditioning was brutal. Day-after-day of punching bags, speed bags, mitts, drills, sprints, jumping rope, and so much more. I was no Ali, but like the Packers under Lombardi (the patron saint of Boomer football fans), I pushed myself beyond my physical limits.
My work ethic paid dividends in the ring and in the classroom
It continues to pay dividends today. I loved my six years in the Coast Guard, conducting law enforcement and counter narcotic patrols in the Caribbean and commanding rescue missions for wayward sailors in the Gulf of Alaska and Pacific Ocean. The bonds I forged with those with whom I served will last a lifetime. In civilian life, I’m proud of having earned the respect of my colleagues at Lucas Group. I accomplished it all because I almost flunked out of school a decade ago. And that failure helped me understand the essentials of success; in business and in life. That setback became a catalyst for me and helped forge a new work ethic that is ingrained in me today.
The moral of my story? If you have a good work ethic, never stop developing it. If you don’t have one, develop it before it’s too late. Without a good work ethic, be prepared for heavy seas. With it, you’ll eventually find safe harbor.