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The Coach: ‘Snowflake millennials are undermining my practice’s team spirit’

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Careers expert Matthew Turner advises a practice partner who finds his younger employees unduly picky about the projects they work on

I am a partner in a large practice we have run for a number of decades. Recently, our workload has flattened due to projects being put on hold. We have come in line for a lot of criticism for moving staff to other work. Some have gone off on one, saying they didn’t join our practice to work on less prestigious projects, and they have done this quite publicly, which I feel has undermined team spirit and practice culture we have spent years investing in. I am coming to the conclusion that millennials are soft.  

Matthew turner

It’s true that many people do not know what it takes to keep a large office going with many mouths to feed. Only someone in your position knows how hard it can be to keep the flow of work coming. And while I don’t want to encourage intergenerational animosity, there’s no denying stereotypes exist. Perhaps the most common stereotype of a millennial is as an entitled ‘job hopper’ ready to throw in the towel unless their companies pander to things such as flexible working. 

All jobs have aspects we don’t like, and many who are early in their careers struggle to learn this. But it is worth remembering that while you have lived through challenging times, their lot is arguably worse, in a different, more personally unstable way. Imagine being saddled with near-crippling student debt perhaps for future decades, and the prospect of perpetually living in rental accommodation.  

Millennials are a generation of contradictions, wanting flexibility as well as stability

For me, millennials are a generation of contradictions, wanting flexibility as well as stability. They want the security of a long-term career, but also want to feel appreciated, informed, and connected.

You are clearly very attuned to the importance of workplace culture, but it sounds as though you could do some work to be more transparent about the facts of business.

It’s hard for managers to remember how information-starved employees are. Architects are not known for being financially astute, and I wonder if many of your employees could answer the question ‘does this practice actually make money, and how?’ 

An HR policy focused on issues such as legal risks and management, can unconsciously promote a certain silence, and you can end up with an office of under-informed, overly group-bonded, hypervigilant people searching for any clue as to what’s really happening. They may be asking themselves whether the company is in trouble; is it worth hanging around here or should they jump ship?

A lot of people are reporting difficult times at the moment. Running your practice to encourage people to identify as ‘we’ rather than ‘me’ is even more important in these circumstances.

So, although it is fraught with complications, consider exploring ways to provide a fuller disclosure of finances, and how people’s contributions relate to the bottom line. The realities of how a business works is something architects tend to prefer to keep at arm’s length, but need to grasp for their survival. 

AJ coach Matthew Turner is an architect and careers consultant who runs the Building on Architecture consultancy. To contact him with your questions, tweet @TheAJcoach or email him in confidence at hello@buildingonarchitecture.com 

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