Generation Self-Employed: Truths about a millennial workforce



In my early student years, long before I had ever been called a ‘millennial’, an uncle of mine explained to me that I was part of ‘generation self-employed’.
In his words, I am one unit in a mass of young people, working for someone else while also propelling myself forward through my own opinions and professional ambitions.
My experience in the corporate world thus far has taught me that I am, as a member of my demographic, a marvel. As a millennial, employers want to understand me, businesses want to sell to me, brands want to attract me, and all of the above want to guide me on my professional journey in the hopes that they can benefit and adjust to the way the world is heading. We have to wonder how millennials could ever doubt that we are the centre of the universe, when life nurtures every single snowflake tendency we have.
As the professional world trends away from phenomena of the past – such as working one job from school to retirement and only aiming to makes ends-meet – it moves towards being densely populated by a generation with a fleeting attention span, a socialised need for adventure and the innate belief held by each member that they are destined for greatness.
The implications of this new corporate world are manifold. Most of these have been discussed at length in an effort by various parties to ‘figure us out’. What is taken as fact is that we need a lot of coddling, we grew up with too much materiality and that the course of history has been forever altered by our obsession with social media – things that are widely recognised as having the power to shape the future of the world of work. The tendency of this generation to behave as self-contractors, rather than as employees, will become more prominent as we grow in the workforce and begin to occupy more senior positions.
1.    Dividing personal and professional is going to get increasingly difficult. For millennials, personal brand is just as valuable as professional brand. In a much different way than the generation before us, we are going to continuously struggle to not proclaim our opinions at the top of our lungs, whether they align with that of the company or not. With the fear of ‘selling-out’ being all too prominent, most of us would rather cut all visible ties to corporate entities than compromise our sense of self and individuality. The biggest fear for generation self-employed is not being a ‘self’ at all.
2.    Even though our fantasies have gotten tamer with age, they still exist. While I once wanted to be a pop star, I now have the much more realistic belief that I will one day release a line of couture jewellery. As we get older, these dreams don’t go away – they simply become more aligned with our actual field of employment. We dream big, no matter what.
3.    We all have a pet project. Whether it’s writing books, branching out into short films, trying to be a snapchat influencer, or thinking that one day our love of health-food-smoothies alone will financially sustain us, we all think that we’re going to be at least moderately famous. There is probably no rarer thing than a millennial go-getter who doesn’t have or want a little something on the side. Who could ever be fully entertained with only one career at a time?
4.    Perhaps by influence of Beyoncé, we value independence above all else. In every walk of life, we reject labels, hierarchy, judgement and oppressive structure. While we understand that everyone has a job title, we want to be inspired – and not ordered – into action. In our world, opinions are only ever good things and those who want us to share ours are only ever good leaders. Life is like a debate club, and we want an equal chance of winning. If we have to lose, then we better learn something along the way that will ultimately better us as people.
5.    We want to save the world. It’s no secret that the millennials of the workforce want to work in the places that engage in CSR. But it goes further than that – we want to play a pivotal part in the CSR that takes place. We want to take skills that we learn in corporate life, or wherever we’re employed, and use them to better the world. We don’t just want to write cheques, we want to inspire change.
6.    We want to make an impact, and we want to make an impact now. I have never once waited for anything in my whole life. I have very vague memories of being a child and having to wait until three o’clock the next day for the next episode of Pokémon. That was short lived, as my family home was soon kitted out with the internet and I could watch whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I can have food from any corner of the earth delivered to my house within 30 minutes. Understandably, when I say I want to solve world-hunger, I mean I want to do it yesterday.
7.  Perhaps the most crucial fact of all is that millennials need to be personally enriched by professional experiences. We want to learn – but we also want to grow. The values that my parents tried to instil in me of working to earn a living and paying your dues are, for better or worse, gone. Millennials believe that their work lives should offer them more than money, more than benefits and more than a step up the career ladder. We want more than casual Friday’s and bean-bag chairs. What we’re looking for is total and utter fulfilment – and whether that’s possible or not doesn’t really factor into the equation.