“What do you do?” used to be a simple question. Individuals defined themselves by profession: teacher, engineer, pilot. Or by company: Con Edison, NASA, Kodak. But it was always one job, one identity.
Today’s young professionals, however, aren’t as easily categorized. I still can’t figure out what to prioritize on my LinkedIn profile. I am a journalist, marketing consultant, and co-partner for an Internet company. All are equally important to my identity. And my Millennial-aged peers find themselves in similar situations. I don’t know any Millennial who self-identifies using only one “job.” “Millennials aren’t just position players,” says Ross Martin of Viacom’s trend-spotting and innovation division, Scratch. “They don’t just play first base or left field. They are ‘athletes,’ and their external hard drives are wired to do many things at once.”
This Millennial multi-careerism — which MTV/Viacom calls “sidepreneurism” — is taking over the workforce. By 2014, 36% of the U.S. workforce will be comprised of Millennials, and by 2020, 46% of U.S. workers will be Millennial-aged, per the Young Entrepreneur Council. This generation of Millennials does not identify with one company or career. They don’t work for IBM, but instead build smart computers. It might be a slight difference in semantics, but it underlines that their priorities are on their own skill set, and not on their employer.
There are two parallel trends at play. Millennials are both working several jobs simultaneously and sequentially. Nearly one in four (22%) expect to work at six or more different companies during their professional lives, according to DeVry University and Harris Interactive. Only 28% expect to work for fewer than three employers during their careers.
Economic factors are undeniably fueling some of this multi-careerism, as are shifting work-life priorities and a relaxed definition of what is considered a “career.” Yet the unifying result is that Millennials do not pin their identities to one company or career.
“What you do is a lot more important than where you do it. Life isn’t all about work to them. They aren’t working just to get a paycheck, but to make a difference,” says Sandy Thompson of the Young & Rubicam advertising agency. “There used to be an order in life: finish your education, go find a job, buy a house. This generation really mixes it up. They don’t do things in any one order. They just do what feels right and feel [less] pressure to succeed [using the traditional career path] to get ahead.”
There are both challenges and opportunities for companies reacting to this multi-careerism generation. “There are three ways you can handle it,” says Martin. “You can shut it down, ignore it, or embrace it. I get that [employers] think, ‘If I pay you and give you a desk, I expect you to do the job. I don’t want to hear you are doing something else.’ But what happens when that employee is more effective and productive with the side hustle?” Martin says employers need to see multi-careerism as an opportunity, and not as competition.
At the same time, multi-careerism raises some corporate complications for employers, including divided loyalties, scheduling priorities, and conflicts of interest. As such, many traditional companies err on the side of deterrence. Many employers require their workers to receive permission before seeking another job. Other HR departments don’t officially ban other endeavors, but they place restrictions on maintaining them.
To this end, Oracle’s guidelines on non-Oracle endeavors state that software developers on their “own time and without using any Oracle equipment” can “utilize engineering knowledge to market for profit a product that does not compete with Oracle.” But, these products can’t be anything that “Oracle would likely offer in the future.”
Meanwhile, a growing number of companies are recognizing how this cross-pollination provides fresh insight and innovative strategies. “Millennials want to contribute, they want to do better [at work]. [Therefore] it’s important to create an ecosystem that allows Millennials to participate in making changes,” says Martin.
Viacom’s Scratch is currently working with clients including Dr Pepper, General Motors, and Microsoft to effectively utilize (or profit from) these multi-career Millennials. MasterCard is another company embracing this culture change brought forth by its Millennial employees and interns, which it calls YoPros. “We think that if we provide unique opportunities to our YoPros, they will stay engaged,” says Mastercard’s Marcy Cohen. Some of Mastercard’s youth-oriented projects include the “Product Development Express,” which is a 48-hour “fest” where YoPros are tasked with developing new product prototypes that specifically target young consumers. And beginning August 1, Mastercard is introducing the 8-week “Developers Contest” to challenge employees to create new mobile apps using its PayPass Tap & Go payment software. Both sides benefit from these projects, says Cohen. Millennials boost their skill set and Mastercard gains a better understanding of “what moves this generation.”
Ultimately, all employers need to realize that side hustles — be they profitable businesses or non-monetary hobbies — are advantageous. “If I am in the t-shirt business and find out one of my employees has a successful blog, I need to say to myself, can we learn from what he is doing? How can we take what he is doing and do it here?” says Martin.
Thompson adds, “Multiple interests are how you create a happy life. Employers see how [multi-careerism] makes their employees more productive and happier. And happy employers in the long run benefit.”