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Are Millennials Rejecting Professionalism or Careerism?

July 17, 2017

In today’s business climate, it’s surely difficult for a less experienced generation to distinguish between the goals of professionalism and careerism.

Descriptions of professionalism are primarily focused on an individual’s business conduct and ethics. Merriam-Webster defines professionalism as someone’s “competence or skill” in their job. Dictionary.com focuses on a professional’s “character, spirit or methods.”

In my experience, most young employees are extremely concerned about the ethics behind what a company does and the tasks they are given. As students, they learned about environmental responsibility and fair play, where everyone wins a trophy. It’s logical that with a clear understanding of professionalism, most would accept it as a worthy goal.

Unfortunately, too many Millennials confuse professionalism with careerism, or “competing for advancement,” and believe employers expect careerism from them, rather than professionalism. Dictionary.com defines “careerism” as “devotion to a successful career, often at the expense of one’s personal life, ethics, etc.” This definition sums up the typical Millennial’s worst nightmare.

It’s not that young people disregard their careers, but Millennials, and even X-gens, tend to view work from a precarious position. With the pace of technological change, it can be hard to imagine which careers will be around in twenty years. A lifelong job isn’t even one of their daydreams, and few expect to work for the same company for an entire decade.

They may still apply for work in traditional fields, but they don’t expect to perform jobs in the same ways their parents did. This generation has the ability to work remotely or work flexible hours, sometimes passing over higher paying jobs for ones that offer these options.

Since many in the younger generation believe that employers expect careerism from them, rather than professionalism, the challenge for trainers is to show younger workers how true professionalism is an ideal fit for their values. Young workers must see that adopting professional conduct does not mean surrendering to extreme careerism just to get ahead in the workplace. Instead, professionalism demonstrates healthy self-esteem, a good work ethic and honest respect for other people, whether you work from home, or work 30 or 60 hours a week.

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