Millennials are embracing portfolio careers in greater numbers than ever before, but what is driving them?

by Oliver Crofton, Managing Director, Flexy

Millennials have, at times, had a hard time from the press in relation to work ethic, outlining to their perceived entitlement, narcissism and laziness. Time Magazine famously described them as the ‘Me Me Me Generation’ back in 2013, and the perception that they are disloyal job-hoppers who baulk at hard work has been reinforced in tabloids the world over. Perhaps the most telling news story regarding working Millennials came courtesy of the manager at a Vauxhall theatre, who went viral for this astonishing job advert, which chastised young people and their work ethic.

This is perception is totally flawed. For a start, the idea of the ‘job-hopping Millennial’ isn’t accurate, as the rate of Millennials leaving their job after a short time is only marginally higher than that of Generation X workers at the same age, with 63.4% of them staying in their job longer than 13 months compared with 59.9% of Generation Xers back in 2000. That being said, many young people are opting for a ‘portfolio career’, meaning they are trying several different professions and experiences instead of sticking to one job or career path. Whether this will be a permanent trait is impossible to say, with even the oldest Millennials being less than half way through their career.

There are several motivations for this type of vocational path. Buying a house is a near impossibility for many young people. They will have to pay almost five times as much rent as their parents by the time they’re thirty, making it nigh on impossible to save for a house. 1.5million homeowners in Britain are over-85, and they have a bigger share of the housing market then everyone under 35 combined. House prices have skyrocketed, putting home ownership increasingly out of reach. Stagnant wages and exorbitant rents make it hard to save, and those who are able to put some of their pay packet have not been able to grow their money due to record low interest rates.

This is all very unfortunate for young people, and has resulted in a shift of attitude. Without tangible assets to look after or pay off, namely a property, young people are able to live and work much more fluidly. Loyalty to a job often comes from the fear that a period of instability could seriously affect ability to pay bills and debts. Without such burdens, Millennials are spending their money on experiences or betterment, such as sabbaticals abroad and post-graduate degrees. When home ownership and savings seem so difficult to achieve, why put the pressure on yourself? There certainly appears to be a higher emphasis on living for today.

This fluidity also means that young people want to try many different things. Some will work simply to help a burgeoning career in art or design. A drama school student recently wrote for us about how his part time work perfectly fits in with his fledgling drama career, and he’s not alone. Heartland Monitor Poll found that 57% of Millennials in America thought the most important thing about a job was how enjoyable it was, or how much it made a difference to the world. Compare that to 64% of older Americans who said the size of the pay packet was the most important factor.

This makes flexible work a very Millennial phenomena. Many young people have a figure in their head that they need to earn each month to survive, with anything else being a bonus. This sort of mentality makes temporary and shift work very appealing, as they can be done in conjunction with the pursuit of other endeavours. Every shift gets them towards that key total, and the rest of their time can be spent working on that book, or that journalism career, or that start-up business idea.

A large number of young people would have been working steadily since they were 16, often alongside studies. Having found that their bachelor’s degree is not a guaranteed path to a job in the current market, some will take internships, apprenticeships or further study; and will still find, after 10 years in work, that they are given the most remedial tasks and are right at the bottom of the ladder. This is not a matter of a bad work ethic, more a realisation that they may need to make something happen for themselves. The reality of the economy, job market and housing market means that jumping from job to job and working shifts to subsidise their passion projects is possible. They should be supported for using the tools at their disposal to live a happy and productive life.

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