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Susan Adams

Too often, millennials are condemned for their high expectations on the job, especially by the baby boomers who are doing the hiring. Younger workers want more family time, well-paying jobs, rapid promotions and raises, praise for their performance, respect from colleagues, and the chance to make a difference in the world. (I bet older workers want all that too!) Are millennials being realistic or are they reaching for the impossible dream?

Let’s start with family. Both men and women are looking for better work-life balance. They want more time for family — and it’s time for this kind of movement. Data show that United States workers put in more hours than any other country in the world. Many people are overworked, and studies demonstrate that this can actually have long-term physical and psychological problems. So, why shouldn’t this generation challenge such a harried lifestyle? Especially because, despite some opinions to the contrary, they are unbelievably productive, fast-track workers who know how to leverage technology to get the job done.

A lucrative career is also on their wish list. Sixty-five percent of respondents in a survey by Bentley’s Center for Women and Business say that being successful in a high-paying career or profession is important. This is particularly true when it comes to ensuring their family’s financial security, building long-term wealth and learning new skills. In addition to climbing the corporate ladder, this relationship-oriented generation wants mutual respect; they want to know that they’re valued.

Millennials also want to know that the work they’re doing is impacting the world, and that the money they make will contribute to society and the economy. Eighty-four percent of survey respondents say that “knowing I am helping to make a positive difference in the world is more important to me than professional recognition.”

Every younger generation starts out idealistic, so these kinds of goals aren’t shocking or even unrealistic. What is different about millennials versus their predecessors is that they have structures around them that support the idealism. They grew up with very supportive parents and families, and the idea that they can have it all. Outside the home, companies are incorporating social responsibility into their strategic plans with high stakes as they compete for the attention of these future leaders.

All of this backing doesn’t give millennials a free pass. Expecting to jump from an entry-level position to the corner office won’t likely happen overnight, and will probably feed into stereotypes of an “entitled generation.” But they shouldn’t lose that ambition and drive, either. A couple of simple rules of thumb will help create inroads to your goals:

Learn the business of business

You’re bored in your entry-level position and want to move up — fast. While it’s realistic to expect career growth, it’s important to understand where your manager is coming from. Businesses have tight budgets and restrictions, and often cannot simply create positions. Sit down with your manager to better understand his or her pressures, and come up creative ways to work within boundaries.

Deal with ambiguity

You may want a clear path to your dreams but that is not likely to happen for many, if any. We rarely have all the information needed for tough decisions, so do the best with what you do know and can realistically assume. Develop your instincts by taking your best guess and seeing what happens, rather than running to others for confirmation.

Be more resilient

You want to please, to the point of often becoming perfectionists (particularly women). This stems from growing up as a generation with abundant encouragement and support. Which is why it can be devastating when you hit a roadblock or fail at something. Work on how to rebound. Learning this is a gift and a skill. Making mistakes doesn’t mean you’re a failure for life. It’s actually a good thing because you learn a lot about yourself and your skill sets. You learn how to better use what you have.

This generation will stick to their guns about doing what’s good for family, for employers and for society. Their value system has enough support, and that’s how they will change the world.

This is the second in a series on millennials and the workplace. Susan Adams is professor of management and senior director of the Center for Women and Business at Bentley.