As I sat with friends over a delicious Thai dinner the other night, our conversation took an interesting turn. As recent MBA graduates it was only natural for us to compare notes on our newly acquired jobs, our experiences post school and how these jobs lived up (or did not) to our expectations. What kind of hours do you have? How is the working culture? What do you do? Do you like what you do? Every aspect of our professional lives was dissected for the benefit of others on the table.
When it came to the fore that one of our colleagues had a "better" lifestyle than the rest of us (in this case, it entailed a 9-5 job, with a lot of spare time in the evenings), for about the same pay, it was interesting to watch everyone's behavior on the table: "Are there more openings in your company?" was the first question that came to the fore multiple times from all corners of the table!
It raised a few questions in my mind immediately. Why did we all suddenly gravitate to this one job? Was it just a matter of the hours? Was it a perception that we were getting cheated by putting in the "extra" hours while this other individual with the same background and qualifications was doing relatively less for the same amount of money? Were we just fed up? Did we just want more time to ourselves? Were we not willing to put corporate before self anymore? Or was there something else entirely different at play here?
I had read an article in The Wall Street Journal recently that talked about companies in the U.S. changing their recruiting habits and even the internal culture to be more accommodating towards the demands of the new generation. There was a greater emphasis on 'work-life balance,' beyond the typical lip service that companies pay to the concept, to actually implementing these 'benefits' into their systems. The ability to work from home X number of days, flex-hours, and greater family time were only some of the perks on offer at these companies. They knew that if they didn't do the needful, these individuals would just leave for "greener pastures." It then begs the question as to where these greener pastures lie -- in today's global economy where people in many parts of the world are struggling to pay their mortgages, where are these opportunities? If they don't actually exist, is it just that this generation is less risk averse and therefore willing to wait on the sidelines for that golden opportunity to arise? Or are they just wiser and are willing to put themselves first?
The next logical question then is, where does this mentality arise from? In the case of MBAs, is it just a sense of entitlement? Is it a case of "I have worked my butt off for the last X years to get to this point, and I am not going back to that sh*t again!" (It always reminds me of the FedEx ad that featured a newly hired MBA who wasn't willing to do some menial work. When assigned the task, he says "No, you don't understand, I'm an MBA!")
I came into the MBA after a six-year stint at one of the then-premier financial institutions in the world; I enjoyed what I did, liked my job and the people I worked with. Two years out of the job and I couldn't fathom the idea of going back to the industry and the work and lifestyle that was on offer (it's a different matter altogether that I did just that!). I had sworn to not subject myself to spending late nights making changes to PowerPoint slides, churning out version after version. Why? What had the MBA done for/to me? Why was something that I had done for six years suddenly not so appealing anymore?
For one, I personally believe that the MBA had instilled in me a sense of confidence and belief that I could take on all challenges, and, more importantly, that I could do it on my own terms! It also opened my mind to a whole new world of possibilities and options, offering me exposure to people and experiences from other areas of life that differed vastly from my own. And it also made me realize that there is more to life than just money; personal satisfaction and the need to "like what you do" quickly moved up the priority list. There are too many bigger and more fruitful challenges out there that could benefit from our skill set and knowledge. When you hear from the former CEO of a top company personally advise you that "you are your top priority; and everything you do must focus on your own happiness and self first," you knew it was time for a change. If that CEO had reached the top using a such a philosophy and mentality, you know it had to have worked for him -- so why not me? The reason I question the MBA as the source for this mentality is that it hasn't just been me and one to two other people; several recent MBA graduates I have talked to have mentioned the "job not living up to its expectations" as a reason for dissatisfaction with their current state.
Does this in anyway then make us a reckless or unfaithful generation? That dinner table conversation the other night took me back to another conversation I had had a few months back. This gentleman, with several years of industry experience and a strong loyalty to a single institution, lamented how unfaithful and reckless the new generation of workers was. He reflected back on his generation of employers, using his own example as a benchmark for loyalty; he had been with this company for over 30 years (and told me that he had never thought about quitting or switching to a competitor at any point in time). It just wouldn't have been right, he said. "I owe what I am to this company."
While he may have been right in his own way, I don't think he got the full picture or was right in comparing the two groups. Maybe during his time, it was the done thing to stay on at your employer for years on end; today however, individuals are putting themselves first. Maybe today's generation derives a greater satisfaction from their own well-being rather than just secure employment and a steady pay check. Maybe they are just keen to explore the world around them and learn from different sources. Maybe they just don't like what they have and won't settle for second best. Maybe it is all of the above; maybe it is none of the above. Maybe we are actually just bigger risk takers today!