The workplace of the future will be a world of contradictions—which the next generations that enter it will need to master.
Charting a career path in a mercurial workforce means staying focused and adaptive in equal measure. That’s something millennials and their younger generation Z counterparts will need to be able to do more successfully than their elders ever had to.
For now, though, the learning curve still looks steep. A recent study by the online work company Upwork found that despite the millions of millennials looking for work, 53% of hiring managers said that they struggle to find and retain millennial employees.
Today’s leaders have gotten to where they are by adapting to what’s now and what’s next, not blindly clinging to one specific path.
“I believe the majority of young people don’t know exactly what they want to be or do and start in one direction and, when they’re lucky, evolve their careers into a direction,” Bruce Fabel, president of the laser hair-removal company Ideal Image, told me.
During his decades of experience with brands like Warner Bros., Nike, and Calvin Klein, Fabel understood that getting to the C-suite meant more than choosing a single path. It meant being able to traverse completely different kinds of paths succeed at each one.
That’s increasingly becoming the norm in today’s workforce, and millennials will need to hone their skills at tackling its many contradictions. Here are a few places to start.
Financial security is a smart goal to have, but compensation shouldn’t be the only factor you consider. No amount of money makes every job worth it; studies show that a big paycheck on its own don’t necessarily lead to emotional wellbeing.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to find a high-paying job, but you want to make sure the culture is a good fit, too.
Looking back, the only career move Fabel wishes he had reconsidered was one that he based mostly on pay.
“I was lured by compensation versus company culture and work environment,” he said. “But the position lacked a positive motivational team environment that I desire and thrive in.”
Culture will keep you engaged and learning—two things that will help you earn more over time anyway. But if a paycheck is the only appeal of a position, chances are you won’t be happy there for very long.
Many millennials have parents and grandparents who worked for the same company for most of their careers. That level of dedication is admirable, but it’s no longer realistic in today’s job market.
Like it or not, you’ll have to move around in order to move up. The key is to be completely loyal to your current company while you’re there but not be afraid to move on when the right opportunity arises.
That’s a contradiction best confronted by networking.
“Networking is marketing yourself just as a company would market a product or service to the public,” Fabel explained. “Apply to and work internships every summer, choose different companies and follow up, stay in touch, create a reminder in your calendar to stay front of mind with senior executives.”
Some leaders got to where they are with an iron fist and by keeping control over everything. But the best leaders don’t treat their job like an episode of Game Of Thrones. They know who they are and what their companies are all about, but they also know how to listen to the entire team.
Fabel has worked to position Ideal Image as the luxury brand in its industry, like Ritz Carlton for hotels or Nordstrom for retailers. And to do that, Fabel has his hand in all parts of the business.
“I love the mix of science, marketing, and sales,” he said. “I wake up every day excited to research and develop new products and services, work with our creative marketing team to promote them and motivate 1,000 salespeople, providers, and support team members to sell our services and provide exceptional customer service.”
But in order to get the company to where it is, Fabel relied on his most important asset—his team.
“Listen to your guest and your team before making changes,” he advised. “The best information comes from the team members who are on the front lines interacting with your guest day to day.”
Millennials often rally behind visionary leaders like Steve Jobs, but the ability to listen to the right people and learn from them is essential to advance in the workplace of the future.
One of the most difficult contradictions to master at any age is work-life balance. Workplaces of the future will have more room to work flexibly, but the fact remains that to get to the top, you’ll have to put in many, many hours.
“My average workweek is 65 to 75 hours,” Fabel said. “You don’t become a senior executive working 9 to 5.”
Whether you’re working your way up through a company’s ranks or starting your own business, be prepared to invest a lot of time in getting established.
“I worked hard and tried to learn every aspect of the retail industry sector—staying late, reading every internal document I could get my hands on, and asking questions when appropriate,” Fabel said of his early career.
But in spite of those long hours, Fabel didn’t hesitate when asked about his biggest accomplishment.
“My proudest moment is seeing both my children succeed in college and want to follow in my business leadership footsteps,” he said.
It might not always be easy, but no matter how career-driven you are, the people in your life are the most important part. Work-life balance may be the biggest contradiction of all, but getting it right will keep you happy no matter how the workplace changes in years to come.
Erin Palmer is a writer who looks forward to the evolution of the workplace, as long as she doesn’t get replaced by an algorithm. Connect with her on Twitter @Erin_E_Palmer.