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Unhappy millennials want the same thing

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Drudgery of entry-level jobs in professional services is rife, writes Maximilian Kaupp-Roberts

Moody shots of the City of London.©Charlie Bibby

It is often said that youth is wasted on the young. Many twentysomethings are taking that on board — and are taking action by leaving corporate life while they still can.

In recent months the lack of loyalty among millennial staff has been causing headaches to employers, with the financial sector in particular facing an increasing number of deserters. According to a recent survey by Deloitte, 44 per cent of millennials are looking to leave their jobs within the next two years, while a whopping 66 per cent expect to be gone within five.

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Are millennials simply entitled whingers, so used to a lifetime of excessive praise that they expect high pay and high-profile work from their first day in the office? Or is the problem more fundamental: are these young people simply motivated by different concerns?

I recently left my role at an investment bank, and fellow graduates working in finance have been supportive — many have told me they also have a strong desire to leave in the near future. No one expects to remain in their job long-term.

So what can be done to halt the exodus of millennials from the corporate world?
One problem is that many companies are the victims of their own recruiting success. This slick process was expertly skewered by the late Marina Keegan, then a Yale student, in her 2011 essay “Even artichokes have doubts”. As Keegan put it: “I’m not special. Their team of recruiters is really good. They come at Yale with a myriad of other consultant firms and banks and sell themselves shamelessly and brilliantly to us from the time we turn twenty.”

This seamless recruitment has led many graduates who had never heard of discounted cash-flows or credit derivatives to glide into a job in the sector. Unsurprisingly, many of these young employees soon decide to move on to roles more suited to their interests.

There is more to this exodus than simple mismatching. The drudgery of entry-level jobs within professional services is well documented. Hours are spent grinding away in front of Excel and PowerPoint. A combination of routine tasks and high pressure leads to demoralised juniors. While this has long been the case, what has changed is the loss of the finance industry’s two great pull-factors: prestige and wealth. Since the 2008 crisis, the envy that a City or Wall Street job once inspired among peers has been replaced with opprobrium and judgment.

In their place, Silicon Valley companies such as Google and Facebook capture the hearts of ambitious graduates. It is hard to stay motivated when, in the eyes of much of society, you are a parasite or even a “vampire squid”.

And while the industry still pays exceptionally well, if even a young banker cannot buy a house in London, what is the point in working so hard?

Millennials are looking for the same things that young people have always wanted in a career: interesting work, financial security, good prospects and a job they can take pride in. If employers are serious about retaining talent for the long-term they should start by getting the right people in the door.

By expanding hiring away from purely elite university applicants, a smaller but more loyal cohort of employees could surely be found.

And if, as seems to be happening, profits in the industry are dropping to more ordinary levels, the workplace culture should change to reflect that. Shorter hours, less weekend work and the feeling that there is a life outside the office would go a long way to alleviating the monotony of entry-level jobs.

This normalisation may further reduce the appeal of finance to the most ambitious and competitive of graduates. And if that means that fewer potential scientists, engineers and artists end up working in the financial sector, then that may be no bad thing.

The writer is a millennial and former derivatives trader

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