Brandeis International Business School

028: Patience & Purpose in the Workplace

Millennials, employee engagement and intergenerational collaboration... oh my!

Adam Smiley Poswolsky is a millennial workplace expert, an international keynote speaker and the best selling author of "The Quarter Life Breakthrough and The Breakthrough Speaker". Smiley helps companies attract, retain and empower millennial talent through speaking on the topics like employee engagement and intergenerational collaboration.

A lot of companies are now struggling with retention and keeping young people longer than six months or a year. Millennial turnover alone costs U.S. companies $30 billion a year because it's incredibly costly to hire someone, train them and then have them leave after a couple months.

So, Adam is trying to change workforce mindsets and cultures by helping people think about how they can make young employees feel happy, engaged, purpose-driven and focused on growth in the workplace. “Which I think is possible, but is definitely a little bit of a different paradigm than the traditional workforce engagement.”

From the Dorm Room

Smiley attended Wesleyan, where he majored in Film Studies. After graduating, he moved to New York City with a number of his peers and started doing freelance film production.

it was fun for a while, but he found that the film industry wasn't really the place he wanted to be. As a small cog in these massive projects, he felt lost. “It was something that I really enjoyed studying and kind of fell into the major in college, but it wasn't reflective, really, of who I was and what I really wanted.”

So, disillusioned with the film industry and New York City, Adam spent some time abroad in Argentina working for a film festival before coming back to work on the Obama campaign in 2008.

After the campaign, he moved to D.C. to be a special assistant to the Director of Global Operations at the Peace Corps. “I went to D.C. kind of starry eyed and hopeful ... And it was a great experience, except I also got to realize how slow things happen in Washington, and how hard it is to work for the federal government and the bureaucracy there.” 

On the outside, it seemed like a great job – but on the inside, Smiley was in turmoil because it wasn’t what he wanted. However, he stayed in that role for two-and-a-half years before leaving to embark on his current career path, and he is still grateful for that experience.

To the Boardroom

When Smiley works with organizations, the biggest thing he helps people understand is that the average young person is entering the workforce at a pretty volatile and challenging time. The average millennial will have about 20 different jobs in their life, Smiley says, and both technology and the workforce as a whole is changing very quickly.

“So, I think young people are scared. They're nervous. They're entering a very uncertain world. Many of them are suffering from high student debt and uncertainty. So, what they're looking for is less kind of this job security thing ... and they're much more focused on meaning, social impact, purpose, making a difference today, getting skills, and training and mentorship so that they can kind of have this fulfillment in the moment.”

There's a lot of good that comes with this drive for purpose, a sense of meaning, and the sense that you want to contribute – although millennials have an unearned reputation for laziness among some older generations – but there’s also some negative side effects.

Namely, that pursuit of purpose, as well just living in our on-demand world, can come a lack of patience. So, when a young person enters the workplace, and they don't get the meaning and fulfillment right away, or they don't get to run the project right away, that can be discouraging. But the reality is that just isn’t how it works, and Smiley knows this from experience.

However, those intentions still come from a good place. Smiley likes to talk about going from purpose to patience, where you ground yourself in this desire for purpose – this sense of knowing yourself, your values, what you care about, what you're contributing to, and the types of people you want to surround yourself with – “but the more important piece is this kind of understanding that it's a journey, not a destination.” 

It's not supposed to be perfect. But if you’re learning, you’re getting closer to something you care about, you’re developing your tool kit, you’re learning new skills and you’re becoming a better person, then you're in the sweet spot.

The Entrepreneurial Edge

Every week, we highlight one piece of advice for aspiring, struggling, and successful-but-want-to-be-even-more-successful entrepreneurs:

A lot of people assume that, if you don't have certain education or credentials, you shouldn't be going into businesses and giving them any ideas. But that’s not really the case today – Smiley says businesses are looking for new voices and speakers that are coming from different spaces because traditional approaches aren’t necessarily working.

“If you want to be something, do that thing and call yourself that thing. I mean, if you're speaking garbage, and your stuff's not grounded in anything, then, yeah, people are going to call you out. But if you're waiting for 20 years to get that certification from someone or to have some old person tell you that you are the thing, then good luck.

“I just don't think that that paradigm exists anymore. You have to be able to use the tools available, whether it's online or your creative suite, to make things happen.”


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