Confessions of an agency millennial: ‘My generation makes too many excuses.’

This article is part of our Confessions series, in which we trade anonymity for candor to get an unvarnished look at the people, processes and problems inside the industry. More from the series →

Not many words come as loaded as “millennial.” Everyone has an opinion on them, and they’re generally not especially charitable: millennials are entitled, the conventional wisdom goes; they’re self-absorbed; they’re just not very mature. Lost in the noise is what millennials think about their own cohort.

In our latest confession, we speak to a millennial who works in social media at an ad agency. Excerpts:

Are you sick of the word “millennial?” Do people use it too much?
I’m professional. I try to be. But I’m sick of older bosses saying “millennial” as an excuse to do stupid shit. Someone parties all night and comes in late. “It’s OK, they’re a millennial.” No. There’s nothing positive coming out of that word. I’m different because while I’m a millennial, I still happen to manage a team and I’ve actually worked in this business for a while now. My generation seems to expect that if you work for a year, you can get promoted. I’ve had people that report to me say to me, “I can do what you’re doing.” That expectation kills me. Some days, I wake up and deal with something ridiculous, like, “I’m going to work from home because I have a migraine today.” My generation makes too many excuses and over-shares. I have to keep hearing about sex lives and Tinder. They text me at 9 p.m. to tell me about it. It has to stop.

Do you think younger people are put off by the agency industry?
Yeah. Of course. I have had 80-hour weeks and I’ve burned out and I’ve been put off. But I also have to say, kids come in to this business and think, “Wow, this is cool, I can drink at work” and all that. But before that, they forget that this is a business where you kowtow to a client and you’re pressured from client services and PMs and other people. A lot of it is internal pressure too. It’s all misplaced excitement.

Is it hard being a mom in the industry?
I hate to say it but my priorities aren’t where they should be. I prioritize work before family. I’m an hour late picking him up all the time because I’m immersed in work. He calls me and asks where I am, and usually I lie. I see it with a lot of moms here, especially those with younger children. They’re constantly figuring out how far they can push it. “What’s the latest I can leave my kid at daycare? If it’s 5:46 p.m., then I can get there by 6 p.m. Maybe that’ll work. I wish agencies would have day cares.

Who puts the pressure on you?
It’s just this expectation to be around. Sometimes when I’m dropping my son off at school, I’m emailing and messaging on my phone. How dangerous is that? But I’m pressured into overcompensating because I’m not in the office. You don’t want to disappoint teammates. You don’t want to ever look like it’s not seamless. You never want to feel like you’re unavailable. If my boss’s boss’s boss is online, then I have to be. It’s the weekend, and if a senior director sends an email, do I have to reply? The worst is the reply-all. Someone will send an email to 30 people asking about a Snapchat strategy and everyone will reply all. If I don’t, I look like a slacker, but I probably have something valuable to add. The people who have the time to respond will get the most credit. Not the people who actually know the stuff.

Do women need to act like “one of the guys” to get ahead?
Totally, but it was more in my previous life, where I worked in marketing at a retailer. The vp of marketing would point at me and ask me if I’d ever made out with anyone in the room. You just have to laugh with it because you can’t be oversensitive. I wouldn’t now, but I was young. For example, if I said something back to them, they’d say I was oversensitive. Then they’d make a crack about me wearing the pants at home, how my husband was probably whipped, because I was trying to be a strong woman. It was personal.

Do you think having a woman leader makes a difference?
Yeah, kind of. At my retail job, the CEO was male, the HR person was male. I’d be in meetings presenting marketing plans and the CEO would ask me to turn around so he could “see the back of my jeans.” I did it. I showed them my butt. That’s so wrong. But having a woman at the top of the company does make me feel like we don’t see men vs. women here. We just think of teams. I can be me.

How does that change things?
But it also means you can speak up. I had to once do a whole conference and presentation for a client and at the end, the head of the company, she told me I was so “cute.” That wasn’t great. But the next day, I could bring it up with her. I asked her if that’s all she saw when I had done a presentation. She apologized and said she wouldn’t comment on my appearance again. And I can be outspoken. I’m not a creative exec. But if I have ideas, I can bring them to the table.

Do women need to support each other more?
It’s surprising how catty it can be when it’s a group of women at an agency. We don’t really pull each other up. Everyone’s always talking about each other’s appearances or telling each other they look “cute.” I don’t want to be told I’m cute. I want to focus on the work and the work I do. It’s catty, and it’s competitive, and it’s not healthy.

What surprised you most moving from the client side to an agency?
My manager at [the retail company] told me it was gonna be a cakewalk when I left. “You’re gonna drink all the time and have free food,” he said. I had totally underestimated it. It’s, like, 40 hours of work at corporate, and I think we do 80. Client-side is a walk in the park.

You mention hours. It’s a touchy point in the industry.
Yes. I used to be a project manager. I always thought we wasted more time doing a timesheet than actually what we put in the timesheet. Yes, timesheets are critical to our business, but people fudge them all the time if they’re trying to get within scope and within budget. It’s all about how we can’t make the status reports look bad.

Who’s most guilty of that?
The people in the trenches do it the most, the ones in the weeds. They’ll say they’ve worked a totally different number of hours than they actually have. The thing is, everyone’s obsessed with project status reports. We have a three-color system: red, yellow and green. If you’re “green,” you’re under budget, and clients love it. But being green, that just means either we’re skimping on time and not doing great work, or we’re just lying.

Do you still enjoy it?
Burnouts are so common in this industry, and I’ve had to take four weeks off and reassess who I am and my situation. I love what I do, but if I keep going, I know I’m going to start hating it. We took time off — it’s a relationship — and now it’s better. Some days, I think I don’t even want to look at a piece of product again. I can’t imagine going at this pace. I can’t imagine doing this when I’m 50.

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