140: Millennials in the Workplace: Myth vs. Fact with Gabriella Mirabelli

By April 7, 2017Podcasts

 

Entertainment executive Gabriella Mirabelli shares her insights and experiences with hiring, teaching, and studying young millennials in today’s workforce.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Critical distinctions for workplace motivation
  2. Behavioral insights from surveying 2,500 millennials
  3. What you can learn from 18 to 24-year-olds

About Gabriella

Gabriella Mirabelli is the executive director and co-owner of Anatomy Media, an entertainment marketing and promotion agency founded in 2000. They’ve worked with Discovery, FX, National Geographic, NBC and USA Network to create trailers, TV spots and marketing films. She also has a podcast, Up Next, where she talks about the next innovations in media.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Gabriella Mirabelli Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Gabriella, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Gabriella Mirabelli
Thank you so much for having me, I’m really excited to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to have you and I’d like to kick it off by hearing what’s sort of behind your fascination with millennials?

Gabriella Mirabelli
Well, I think really it has to do with being a bellweather for where things are going. And my interest started because I think with the changes in technology I looked at my children and saw how they were experiencing media just entirely differently from how people have been experiencing it for years, certainly how I was. And so when I looked at my clients and saw how they were kind of powering ahead same old, I thought you really have to look at the early adopters, where they’re going, what they’re doing, because they’re crafting the world for us.

And I certainly learn about technology from young people, and it flows upward. People don’t adopt old technology as they get old. We aren’t seeing elevator operators, we aren’t using buggy whips, people are getting rid of landlines; they’re not saying, “Ooh, now I’m established. I must get a landline.” That just isn’t the way it is, and people need to stop sort of hiding their heads in the sand and thinking that it’s all going to return the way it was, because I just simply don’t think that’s true.

Pete Mockaitis
Could you share then, you’ve surveyed about 2,500 millennials, and I’d love to hear what are some of the striking insights that have emerged from that?

Gabriella Mirabelli
Sure. The purpose of the study, we looked at how young millennials consume media. And it really is young millennials, it’s looking at the younger end of people, because millennials is a definition, it’s just a really broad chunk of people. So we looked at the younger, the sort of 18 to 24-year-old group. And some of the things that were really interesting to us was that two thirds of this population used ad blockers, 69% of them are pirating material, and 3 out of 5 are sharing passwords, and 67% don’t think there’s anything wrong with any of these behaviors, especially the piracy piece.

And that’s really interesting for media companies, anything that’s advertiser-supported.
The statistics, the studies matter at a big level for how does a network behave, but when we think about the job market and employment and millennials at work, I think that’s where looking at this group as one big cohort really starts to fall apart, because when you hire people you’re not hiring a cohort, you’re hiring an individual.

Pete Mockaitis
Agreed, agreed. And it’s so funny, I was chatting with Lee Caraher earlier on the show about millennials and how 72% of millennials – which I guess I am one, 33 and a half – don’t like the word, the phrase “millennial” themselves, and some of the associations or stereotypes. So, it’s great to hear you say that right upfront; it’s that we’re not one monolithic force, it’s everyone has their own sort of unique strengths, weaknesses, gifts, values, prejudices, all that stuff in the mix. And so, any talk of “millennials” is necessarily going to involve some generalization. And so, I’d like to dig into the workplace stuff, but before I get too specific, can you share with me what kind of write-ups about millennials at work do you find to be on-point versus just absurd?

Gabriella Mirabelli
Well, you see a lot of writing around how do we retain millennials, what do we do? This group is unengaged, this group needs… It’s sort of what this group needs and how we must contort ourselves as businesses to keep them, how do we find them. And I think the premise is flawed, because I don’t think, as you said earlier, I don’t think that this group, this very large collection of individuals is full of rubbishy people. I just don’t think that’s true. It’s just not so.

If you’ve hired people who are unmotivated and troublesome, then that’s a problem with the recruiter’s selection, it is not the population. And also I think that there’s become a kind of a trend in the workplace. Work is work. Work isn’t family, work isn’t friends. You may find friends at work, but the raison d’être of work is not to create a social network for you, that’s not why it exists.
One of the things I think across the board is that people, what they look to for work to provide for them comes up short because it shouldn’t be providing those things. I guess as an employer, as somebody who’s worked, and looking at workplace motivation and also looking at selecting people, I really think when you’re dealing with workplace motivation, you can kill motivation in people, but I don’t think it’s very easy to engender motivation where none exists. If somebody is simply not a person who takes pride in their work, doesn’t matter how much leeway you give them, they’re just not going to take pride in their work. That’s just not who they are.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you. No matter how many ping pong tables or foosball stations or nap pods, it’s just not going to spark it.

Gabriella Mirabelli
And for goodness’ sake, please… There are things though that I think that by virtue of the new technology and the incredibly informal way that children and parents behave with one another, I think there are some things that are challenges in general for this population entering the workforce. And again, I would actually ping it younger than you. I would say it’s really the people who had smartphones growing up, and whose parents really were those helicopter parents. And I don’t put the burden on… They were created, their behaviors were reinforced, or they didn’t learn how to do certain things on their own.

It’s sort of an understanding of professionalism, it’s almost like civility or manners, how one behaves in the workplace. And it’s a matter of teaching people things. And I think that rather than wringing our hands and worrying about how upset they’ll get if we try to teach them, I think you can have a very frank conversation. Just because people don’t know a certain standard of behavior doesn’t mean they’re emotionally fragile about being told about it. I think as long as you address somebody and say, “Look, do not forward me emails from your father. I have hired you, not your dad.” And that’s happened to me; I’ve had employees – young employees, fresh graduates – send me emails from their parent.

Pete Mockaitis
But what’s the subject matter? What did the email say?

Gabriella Mirabelli
It had to do with retirement 401k stuff. And I think the parent would’ve been horrified if they thought that their child was simply forwarding it. What it was was their parent was giving good advice, was saying, “You need to… Your employer should be doing this, and so you need to talk to them about this.” And rather than owning, rather than internalizing that conversation, understanding the conversation that the parent was having with them, and owning that conversation with me as a person whose retirement was the point of the discussion. Instead it was, “My dad wants you to do this.”
And it was a way to not be responsible, and I sort of had to sit the person down and say, “Look, I’ve employed you and this is your job and you are a responsible person, so if you have a question, you digest it and you ask a question. I never have a problem with a question from you. But do not forward me questions from your parents. Understand your questions and ask your questions, because your parents are not my employee; you are my employee.” So, that was that.
The other thing is things with phones – being on the phone all the time. And that is something, adults have this problem as well. Older adults. Of course, everybody’s an adult, I should back up. But certainly if you’re the most junior person in the room, you should not be sort of scanning through your phone and, “Uh-huh, uh-huh”. That just isn’t going to fly. And that’s a matter of the new technology, which people don’t necessarily understand when you’re in a meeting, when you’re at work, how to use your phone, what is the phone etiquette.
And honestly, some of the older folks don’t either. If what’s more important to you is what’s going on on your phone, then maybe you shouldn’t be in the meeting. If everybody is on their phone, maybe the meeting shouldn’t happen. The distraction… People only have so much attention, and if you are giving your attention to your phone, you are not giving your attention to whatever else is going on.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s great. Could you keep them coming? Let’s say, what are some other behaviors that kind of are a bit of a sticking spot, in terms of intergenerationally that pop up, and how should we respond on both sides – if I am the millennial or I am the older, wiser, allegedly, party to the exchange?

Gabriella Mirabelli
Well, I think there’s kind of an impatience. Again, I think this is born from the way sort of our attention span… Everybody’s attention span has shrunk. I think now it’s like that of a goldfish. “Squirrel!”, and then our attention goes to something else. But the impatience then with career and what they’re doing – they’ve gone to school and they’ve learned something and now they want… Especially in my industry, I’m in entertainment, marketing, and they want to do the creative stuff. And it’s like, “Well, sure, but of the creative stuff, about 99% of what you’re doing when you’re doing ‘the creative stuff’ is actually process and organization.”
And even the most creative person spends an inordinate amount of time doing the organizing and the process and then putting it all together so that then they can do that creative bit. And that allows them to be flexible and permutate different ideas. However, all that organization and learning how to do that organization, learning how to build that foundation is really critical and you can’t… I mean it’s the “You can’t learn to walk before you run.” And the level of impatience and not wanting to do that boring work, or, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I understand it.” Well, sometimes they don’t, or sometimes it’s just you have to do it every time, a lot of times, and you actually learn through repetition.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood, yes. And so could you maybe bring to life a little bit some instances where you’ve seen some smart, creative innovation that responds to the changing external circumstances? Like you’re in entertainment; now there’s a world of ad blockers and all this stuff that just sort of popped up. So how have you see smart people do smart things to make good innovations happen?

Gabriella Mirabelli
Well, I guess what I think is interesting and what I think certainly for me, I listen to the young millennials who work with me and I talk to them about how they’re consuming media and why they’re doing what they’re doing, and then what they like and what don’t like, and what it means, and why they think their peers are doing what they’re doing. I really use them as resources.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, I love it. And so, you offered a little bit of a stage process or how that could unfold in terms of ideas and inclusion and getting people together to have the conversation and chat about it. I think that curiosity notion is beautiful and fun. So could you maybe tell us a fun story or two of how you’ve seen some of these things come to life?

Gabriella Mirabelli
I guess really, I think when you’re trying to solve any problem, you can only bring the tools of the knowledge you already have. And you can re-combine it, but that’s what you bring, ’cause that’s your toolset.
However, if you were genuinely curious, if when you go to those horrible networking events, which everybody has to go to and learn how to do it, learn how to network – if when you’re talking to people you’re not just going to collect business cards or something, but you decide, “I’m going to learn things I didn’t already know”. And you make a point to, let’s say, kind of interview people, like, “What is it that you do? What’s the most interesting thing you do at your job? What do you love most about what you do? Why is that unique or special? What is it about your company that you love? What is it about your company that you hate? What is something they could change that would make it better?”
Ask some of those kinds of questions and then file that away in your brain, and then you have a little bit of that knowledge which you didn’t have before, and you bring it into a problem that you may encounter. Or you’ve met this other person and maybe down the pipe you’ll run into somebody else and they have a solution which fits that person’s problem, and you connect those two people.
So it’s constantly looking at that stuff. Another question you had shot over was, are there any experiments or studies or pieces of research which I refer to frequently. And I thought, “Gosh, I really go around with almost like Velcro mittens.” Everything I see, I kind of stick a little bit of it here, a little bit of it there. I love this data point or that insight, and I just file it away and that it becomes its own thing in my brain – you know, pieces from all these different sources.

Pete Mockaitis
If I could ask, you talked about creativity in organization, you’re picking up a lot of things and you’re filing them. What’s your system for organizing those well?

Gabriella Mirabelli
I create little Stonehenges all around me. I have stacks. It’s dreadful. Because I like paper. I’m a tactile person – I like real books, because I can dog-ear the pages and underline things. And I know that you can electronically dog-ear things and electronically highlight things, but there’s something to me about the physical act of marking something up or cutting something up, that helps put it in my mind better.
Even the calendars – I have a million different calendar programs, I hate them all. I have a white board behind me and I have different colored post-it notes, and every job and every phase… That’s what I do, and that way it’s very tactile – I can move it around, I can see it. And something about the actual physical touching of it and moving it puts it into my mind. And that’s just again, different people, different ways. You have to find the way that sticks for you. I have notebooks where I write everything down. I have started to use my phone a little bit that way for random thoughts – I put that in the notes section, it’s huge. I can’t ever back up my phone. So I’m kind of a luddite, I guess. Embrace your luddite, your inner luddite.

Pete Mockaitis
It feels like a hashtag, if it had fewer character. #embraceyourinnerluddite. Well, this is great. So Gabriella, tell me, is there anything else you want to make sure that you put forth before we shift gears and hear kind of rapid-fire about some of your favorite things?
And so now, could you share with us a favorite quote?

Gabriella Mirabelli
Ooh, yeah. I have one I really like. It’s long, but I have it ’cause I like it. Sort of redundant. It’s Muhammad Ali: “Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find easier to live in the world that they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact; it’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration; it’s a dare. Impossible is potential, impossible is temporary, impossible is nothing.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. And so you mentioned that you absorb a lot of studies. Are there any ones that really kind of have spoken to you or captured you recently?

Gabriella Mirabelli
I have one that I just printed out about the economics of the Internet, which I’m excited to dive into. And I’m also working on one which will be really gripping, but I can’t tell you anything about it yet.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, intriguing. Okay. And how about a favorite book?

Gabriella Mirabelli
A business book or a book book?

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s do both.

Gabriella Mirabelli
Okay. Well, a business book would be… And this is one I do go back to as well – it’s Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much, because I think that scarcity is really the thing of our time – scarcity of money, scarcity of time, scarcity of attention. And although the book revolves around economics of scarcity, and the discussion was around the economics and how people seem to behave illogically, but there is a logic to when you’re dealing with a scarcity sensation, the psychology of scarcity. And I think it applies to time and attention as well. So that’s a very good business book that I really like. And then the book book that I really like is The Night Circus, and it’s just a meal of words, the language is amazing and rich. And if you’re somebody who really knows language, that’s a great book.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, thank you. And how about, is there a particular tool that you find yourself using frequently that’s been helpful for you?

Gabriella Mirabelli
Paper and pens.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Is there a favorite paper or a pen that really has a tactile punch?

Gabriella Mirabelli
Actually there is. Yeah, I have my favorite pens ’cause they really roll nicely, but no, that’s so sad.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh no. We’ve talked pens before. We had Chris Bailey, we spend a good 3 minutes talking pen brands and pros and cons, so feel free to drop it on us.

Gabriella Mirabelli
No, I’m not going to. But white paper, and, yeah. The Moleskine notebooks – I love those.

Pete Mockaitis
Those are good, yes. And how about a favorite habit, a personal practice of yours that helps you be more awesome?

Gabriella Mirabelli
Oh. Exercise. Working out.

Pete Mockaitis
And what type of exercise and when?

Gabriella Mirabelli
Early early morning – yoga or machines or boxing. I really like boxing.

Pete Mockaitis
And what would you say is your ideal contact information if folks want to learn more about what you’re up to or see more stuff? Where would you point them?

Gabriella Mirabelli
Probably LinkedIn. I have a profile on LinkedIn, and that’s sort of where everything would exist. I also have a podcast – The Up Next Podcast, where I talk to people who are doing really innovative things in media. That’s the UpNextPodcast.com. Or my business, which is AnatomyMedia.com, and we are a marketing and promotions firm for entertainment brands. So we make the trailers that make you binge-watch content.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s cool. And we never talked in much depth, the study that you did about millennials was for the book Millennials at the Gate. Anything we should know about that right quick?

Gabriella Mirabelli
No, I think we kind of covered it. It’s just really about their behaviors, and the one that’s coming up is sort of diving in a bit more about the ability of millennials to know what parent network is the brand behind the program they watch.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh interesting.

Gabriella Mirabelli
And the answer is, they don’t really, unless it’s Netflix. So, this will be sad for big networks, but what are you going to do? Times they are a changin’.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you. And do you have a final parting challenge or call to action for those seeking to be more awesome at their jobs?

Gabriella Mirabelli
Be curious and work hard. And change is incremental, but don’t give up.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, thank you. Well Gabriella, this has been a real treat. Keep on doing the good work you’re doing!

Gabriella Mirabelli
Well, thank you so much for having me on. It’s really been quite fun.

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