Why young people are undervalued in the workplace

Written by: Michael Bloomfield

Being a young professional in the web and marketing industry, I am no stranger to the fact that young people in the workplace often get overlooked, underpaid and overruled in favour of colleagues with more experience. However, you shouldn’t devalue your newest or youngest members of staff, and if I may, I’d like to explain why.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking older generations or people with experience, experience is great! Obviously, we learn from our mistakes and to make enough mistakes to become an expert, you need time in the field. Yet I believe the best way to get the most out of a team is to have a diverse age gap where you hold the opinions of every team member at equal value.

So, why do this? Before I started my own business, I had the privilege of working at a number of different workplaces and environments, here’s what I found: Younger people at work often bring new techniques and fresh ideas with them, whereas the experienced can (not always) get stuck in the same routine applying the same old techniques that ‘get the job done’.

Someone newer to the industry is going to have a different perspective and different ideas to someone who’s been there several years. I found that most of these ideas from younger people, whilst perfectly valid, are often disregarded for being ‘too different to what the company usually does’ and that the person ‘needs time to understand how the company works’. Of course, I know that not all ideas from them, or even anyone, are going to be great and some genuinely won’t warrant a second look. But that doesn’t mean you should overlook every notion, because a fresh insight or a new technique, especially in marketing, could be exactly what you need!

Young people can have experience too! As I said, experience is in no way bad, and every single person will have a different level of skill, but this will not always correlate with someone’s age. When I was younger and looking for my first job as a web developer, it was frustrating to receive responses from agencies saying they have gone for someone with more experience. It was demotivating because although I hadn’t worked in the industry before, web development had always been a huge passion of mine and I started learning the basics when I was only 14. So, I took my age off my CV and I changed my covering letters to say that I was self-taught for the past 4+ years and now looking to break into the industry. This helped me to receive a lot more interest and gain more interviews, and from that, I landed my first job!

Being able to work in several environments from being a junior web developer to a marketing manager made me realise that companies will often base your pay on your age and not your skills. I have seen new members of staff who were hired above younger members on the corporate ladder but could not perform half as well when it came to the skills they needed. In some cases however, the only reason they were put in that position was because they were older. Which, as a young professional, was infuriating to watch.

In my own personal experience, at one point in my life I know I was being paid less than one of my older co-workers who had the same position as me. I also knew that they couldn’t perform the job as well as me even at the subjects they ‘specialised in’. I felt I was being underpaid, and no, it wasn’t because my generation has ‘a sense of entitlement’, (which is a whole different issue I would rather not go into). My qualifications were better and without sounding arrogant, even the work I produced was better.

What I’m trying to say is, it’s not just about hiring young people to make the workplace a diverse and successful one, you should also look at how you pay staff members and base that around their individual skills and level of work produced, not just their age.

Also, again, I’m not trying to knock any experienced professionals, and yes there will be times where experience is greater than youth, but that shouldn’t be every time.

So, my advice to fellow young professionals is to show your worth and prove your skills. Don’t be afraid to be heard or make it known that you feel your ideas are not being heard.  Oh, and don’t forget to ask for a pay rise when you feel you’ve earned it. The worst they can say is no, and if so, find a company that says yes.