Elite Athletes in the Millennial Era: Employability’s Great Solution

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The questions surrounding Millennials and their employability is a significant talking point amongst the executive search community. This article explores whether elite athletes can perhaps provide the answers to these questions

Chloe Fausa Slalom 2

When considering Millennials and their reputation in the workplace there is often a weighted sigh underpinning the stigmatisation that they are ‘lazy, unfocused, entitled, poor communicators’ and ‘lack intrinsic motivation and self-management’. Now, wherever you may stand on the debate, there is certainly a sense of trepidation and discontent surrounding the largest segment of the U.K and U.S workforce. As defined by the Pew Research Center, Millennials are those born between the years 1981 and 1996, with Generation X being their predecessors. The mass of discourse they have accumulated could be to do with their ever-growing presence in the labour market; according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics within the next two years 50 percent of the U.S. workforce is expected to be made up of Millennials, and by 2030 that number will leap to 75 percent.

So where does this reputation stem from? Many believe that the pervasive nature of technology, the rise in finger-tip demand, and out-of-date work environments and management styles, are at the heart of the problem. It must be made abundantly clear, however, that these shortcomings are not inevitable if you’re born in that time-frame, for such blanketing predispositions are both inaccurate and problematic. But for it to have attracted such widespread and inquisitive discussion, a large enough proportion of the demographic is seemingly suffering from these shortcomings. It is no surprise then that employers and recruitment specialists alike are scouring the talent pools for individuals that show little to no signs of ‘Millennial-itis’, if such a crass term can be coined. Issues with discipline, persistence, and communication pose an understandable concern for business employers; these traits are incremental to any job’s efficacy.

Former GB Rower & Harvard Grad, Ross Jarvis
Former GB Rower & Harvard Grad, Ross Jarvis

After years of searching various talent pools, specialist recruitment agency, add-victor, noticed that athletes and military veterans in fact had these traits in abundance. “Interestingly enough, through their respective sporting and military experiences they had acquired and nurtured a catalogue of soft-skills”, says founder Steve White-Cooper. This was especially noticeable within athletes who had competed at the highest level, “what we saw in those coming off an Olympic cycle or exiting professional leagues was very polished communication skills, an ingrained understanding that success doesn’t come overnight, and that confronting failure was a necessity of the pursuit” Steve adds.

It appears, therefore, that as a result of extensive dialogues with the media and coaches, coupled with year-long training regimes and a familiarity with failure, elite athletes are somewhat immune from so-called ‘Millennial-it is’. Whereas within sport, patience is a prerequisite to accomplishment and athletes spend hours each day focusing solely on one movement or drill or routine, in search of perfecting it. This is a psychological uniform and remains worn long after their sporting tenure ends, notably into the workplace; tasks are tackled with the understanding that what you put in is what you ultimately get out.

Similarly, and perhaps the most acute difference between athletes’ mindsets and those of Millennials is the presence of self-management. Student-athletes possess considerable intrinsic motivation, it was their own volition to take up a sport and strive for its corresponding heights. It requires a certain self-perpetuated drive to set goals, evaluate the elements needed to reach them, and persevere through the toils and setbacks along the way.

A perfectly executed selfie
A perfectly executed selfie

Take an elite student-athlete for instance, starting off the day with a 6am training session followed by a day of lectures and seminas before returning for another session in the pool or in the boathouse or on the court, only to do it all again the next day. This, time after time after time, 30-hours a week, inevitably breeds an unprecedented level of discipline and time management. Plus, student-athletes are particularly comfortable around fast-paced, consuming routines, which make them equipped for the multicoloured exigencies of the finance world.

This has been a particular frequent outcry regarding Millennials in the work place; they lack the impetus to lead, to take initiative, and to scale what could be improved, both for personal and company growth. A survey conducted by CBI/Pearson found that out of 344 firms 32 per cent were dissatisfied with graduates’ ‘attitudes and behaviours of self-management and resilience’, with 40 per cent saying they lacked customer awareness.

An issue that doesn’t seem to be resolving itself immediately, and as the number of Millennials in the labour force continues to rise it may become a much more prevalent discourse. What employers may consider, as a consequence, is finding ways to circumnavigate it; one way being through the hiring of elite athletes. add-victor founder Steve White-Cooper proposes “if you combine a rich history of academic excellence with an impressive sporting pedigree, you’re bound to discover individuals who thrive in the office; they often possess a unique ability to adapt to new environments, self-advocate, manage different communication channels, and push through projects, especially in trying circumstances.”

Oxford Blues Rugby Player and Grad, Rob Talotti
Oxford Blues Rugby Player and Grad, Rob Talotti

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