Black Millennials in the Workplace Use the Free Agent Option to Advance Their Careerby Lee E. Meadows, Ph.D, Human Resource Consultant April 9, 2018
The concept of freedom is not lost on anyone who spends time thinking about their range of options, but for African American millennials in the workplace, the exercise of freedom is elevated and broadened by a mindset of career-movement-through-free agency-as-opposed-to-hierarchy. As an organizational consultant/leadership coach, I am privy to many conversations, observations and surface research on the patterns of African American millennials as they move through organizational cubicles and corridors in search of the unrestricted path to their career aspirations.
In doing so, what I have observed is an unwillingness to endure the tricks and taunts of a bygone era of ‘wait and see’ if your career has a chance here. While their predecessors were encouraged to take biases head on, bounce against the barriers with tenacity and remain loyal for a lifetime, I suspect it was the physical and mental strain of stress and duress, as seen on their faces, that moves this collection of millennials to consider other, less, toll taking options.
Preceding generations, generally, managed to build their careers by climbing the corporate ladder, one rung at a time, across a stretch of time in which the 30 to 40-year marathon ended with a gold watch and a retirement package that was strong enough to include not returning to work. It goes without saying that the organizational landscape of that era also masked a minefield that could derail a career. Once flung into this purgatory carb barrel, the only option left was to survive. Legends were created and lives were lost. To merely survive and live to tell the story was considered a badge of honor and that was enough. My conversations with some of the 11.5 million African American millennials who are working their way through the new social media hierarchical landscape reveal a much different way of thinking about the marathon.
For them, it is not enough to say, 40 years later, that ‘I survived!’ Their willingness to seek greener pastures is a testament to how the race has changed. While I have, humorously, coined the term ‘Free Agentology’ and define it as, ‘the act of packaging and marketing a set of skills to an employer who is willing to pay above market value in order to gain a competitive edge to the extent that a contract binds the relationship together’, these millennials don’t view themselves as ‘employees’, but as skilled agents who achieve their status by being twice as skilled, but not staying twice as long. Wait-and-see is viewed as ‘Wait-and die’ (direct quote from an African American millennial who switched jobs prior to this article), and ‘loyalty is present at the place where I am present.’
A Free Agent markets their skills to the highest bidder, knowing that, thanks to the growing span of entrepreneurial activities, the highest bidder could just be themselves! For African American millennials, the range of career/workplace options is augmented by the Talent Wars, the lack of strong Employee Engagement programs, bias built into the organizational culture, globalization, micro-aggressive scrutiny and leadership gaps the prevent advancement. I could argue that the process of relying on the benevolent ‘cradle-to-grave’ trust-me-to-take-care-of-you organizational/social contract ended when this group felt the impact of the Enron-like bankruptcies, the housing market plunge, musical retail chairs and student debt that could see them using their Social Security to pay the remaining balance of their student loans. Free Agents can consider a full range of employment options because only having one option is too restrictive and provides less control over the outcome.
Any employer paying attention to social trends has to know that much of their Diversity and Inclusion initiatives, however well intended, well stall at recruitment if they don’t make an effort to look at and change many of the internal cultural practices that restrict the career advancement of African American millennials and, by definition, broaden their Free Agent options to be ‘anyplace but here!’
Lee E. Meadows, Ph.D is a Human Resource Consultant and the author of the leadership novel, “Take the Lull By the Horns! Closing the Leadership Gap,” available on Amazon.