In an interview with News Corp on the weekend, General Manager of Muffin Break, Natalie Brennan said she’d noticed a decline of plucky, young workers beating down her door to work for free; accusing millennials of having an “inflated view of their self-importance” somehow stemming from the number of Instagram followers they had… Huh?
While she conceded she was probably “generalising”, she went on to add that “it definitely feels like this generation of 20-somethings has to be rewarded even if it’s the most mundane, boring thing, they want to be rewarded for doing their job constantly.”
The comments have, deservedly, copped plenty of backlash across social media. And they don’t appear to have been taken out of context, although you can judge for yourself here.
And look, aside from Brennan’s comments being completely and embarrassingly baseless, they also convey a severe information deficit in understanding what’s going on in the job market right now.
For starters, young people — particularly women — are up against a number of colossal challenges. Employers today expect significantly more from their new starters. It’s no longer enough to have a degree to start in a graduate position. Employers also demand ‘experience’, and often years of it. They want extra curricular activities, internships, sample work. They want to know about your active interest in the community and involvement as a volunteer.
It’s exhausting work trying to build a compelling CV, and there are no guarantees of secure work at the end of it all. Often this unpaid CV building is done while young people participate in paid casual work on the side, at night and on the weekends — now with the added joy of longer receiving penalty rates.
According to 2016 research on internships, 58 per cent of Australians aged 18 to 29 have undertaken at least one period of unpaid work experience in the past five years. One in five of that age group have undertaken five or more, and one in four have actually reduced their paid work hours in order to participate.
Yes, there is a place for structured internships offered by employers, but these internships are not about getting young people to work for free, or to have them take on menial tasks or projects that an employer is struggling to do themselves (like manage their social media).
These internships should instead focus on offering interns a genuine, learning experience. They should be limited to a set number of days, and in many ways require more work from the employer than the employee. As the Fair Work Ombudsman finds, if an ‘intern’ is doing work that would “otherwise be done by an employee” or if it’s work the “business or organisation has to do”, then that intern is actually an employee.
Meanwhile, millennial women are increasingly unlikely to ever afford their own house or apartment. They will go on to earn less than their male counterparts due to the gender pay gap. They will take a hit to their pay and career prospects if they take time out to have children. And, once again after all that hard work – much of it unpaid – they’re likely to later find themselves being overlooked and ‘perceived to lack commitment’ due to the simple fact they need to work part time.
Recently, we shared this piece by Alix Lee looking at ‘millennial burnout’ and the notion that young people now internalise this idea that they should be working all the time and searching for a sense of purpose. It was an idea first developed by a Buzzfeed writer who noted that this constant need to be on the go at all times can result in paralysis and fatigue – and an inability to tick off some of the most basic of to-do items. Things our parents and grandparents would have had no issue completing, because they simply had more time.
As Alix wrote, millennials are better educated than previous generations, but the youth unemployment rate currently sits at 11.2 per cent. This isn’t about a lack of appetite or willingness to raise our hands for opportunities, it’s that the odds are stacked against us.
And perpetuated lies from companies like Muffin Break do nothing to shift that reality.