Why the alarming state of Millennials calls upon companies’ responsibility.
A recent study underpins how youth’s inability to cope between digital noise and real life pressure triggers a change in today’s business world.
Currently, around 50 percent of the global population is under the age of 30, making it the highest youth population in history and, the workforce of the future. Having grown up in a state of transformation, rapid technological development, changed balance of powers and social unrest, members of the GenZ and Millennials, show indications of a worrying state of mind. Now the question arises, if and to what extent companies have a responsibility towards the future workforce — and if they do so, what needs to be changed in today’s work and leadership cultures.
In a recent study, a Germany-based agency found 12 underlying ‘truths’ while researching the needs, beliefs, inner conflicts and attitudes of teens and tweens between the age of 14 to 29. Conducted in a multi-stage approach, study participants were asked to reflect on their own generation, and shared their opinions in depth interviews. Ultimately, these results show a clear, yet contradictory pattern, which can be divided into three categories of needs:
- Performance, Lifestyle, Looks
Being in constant competition, which starts at a very young age at school and grows with the influence of addictive social platforms like Instagram and Snapchat, results in an egocentric attitude, an overvaluation of aesthetic perfection, with the aim for a picture book career.
- Cocooning, Distraction, Intimacy
A deep desire to retreat from all expectations and obligations in daily life, and finding a ‘me-time’ moment while scrolling through infinite Instagram feeds or binge watching Netflix shows. At the same time, ethical behavior and environmental awareness play an important role, which, however, lack real and long-lasting commitment.
- Self-discovery, Purpose and Courage
The longing for getting to know the real self, achieving meaningfulness and purpose in life and work, as well as a need to break free to unexpected experiences.
These ‘truths’ might not sound like a completely new phenomenon with young people. However, considering the impact of the internet on society and business in general over the course of the last two decades, these trends should be taken very seriously. After all, in the current evolution of globalization, digitization and social change, it’s the youth who is the most exposed and vulnerable of all.
The vicious cycle of imbalance
Looking closer at the study reveals the ambivalence of needs within the three categories. And, in combination, resemble a vicious cycle of imbalance, which I, as a member of the Millennial generation, can relate to as well:
Starting from a place of ego and will to perform, a feeling of overload rises, which leads to a desire to simply switch off the demands and expectations coming from all different angles, and eventually longing to free oneself completely from real life pressure. But instead of finding a solution to cope and find mental strength to confront ourselves, we quickly get lost in virtual worlds and get pulled back into the cycle of following the beliefs and paradigms that have already been defined by outer influences.
These influences come from different sources: starting with our parents’ expectations, the performance principle of schools and universities, the lifestyle of social media influencers, the constant comparison with peers and, ultimately, the compliance with cultural norms and societal views on how we define a successful life, career, or an ideal family situation. Being exposed to this overwhelming input of ‘how things should be’ often turn into an inner struggle of chasing a distorted picture of the future self. This imbalance of the ‘outer’ and the ‘inner’ is being reflected in the research findings.
While neither parents nor the educational system usually enables a space of intensive confrontation with oneself, as in exploring personal values, strengths, challenges, interests and goals, it is no wonder, that today’s youth’s self-perception seems to be disturbed. In addition, consuming single pieces of ‘truths’ via social and digital media every day only fuels the increasing gap between the real self and the expected-self.
Eventually, this inner conflict manifests when entering the working life — the time when we’re seeking the most for orientation, self-assurance, trust and meaningfulness in how and what we contribute to.
Finding uniques potential amid all the noise
“What is it really, what I want to do with my life? What am I really good at? How can I bring my potential into the world in a meaningful way?”
Whether at 16 in school or at 25, when starting the first real job, these are the questions that stay unaddressed for too long most of the times. And this is precisely why, in my opinion, companies can take on the opportunity to help unlock individual potentials of young talents. Generally speaking, and there are obviously exceptions, the mindset of GenZ and Millennials is composed of the following five key attributes — all serving as a source for unique potentials:
A natural open-mindedness towards a diversity in attitudes, backgrounds or cultures, going hand in hand with a tolerance and interest for what’s beyond the horizon.
2. Sharing Nature
Whether it’s cooking together or carpooling, shared activities and sharing what’s owned by an individual to a larger collective plays an important role, affecting a shift in consumption, too.
Highly communicative skills, whether online or offline, while having the courage to speak out, discuss and feeling no shame in demanding.
4. Ethical consciousness
A strong awareness for ethically and socially fair behavior, while caring about environmental issues and pressing global challenges.
5. The Activist DNA
A deep urge to make a positive change for a livable world, following idealistic values and using entrepreneurial commitment to get active.
Closing the gap through unspoken truths in today’s business world
Bringing the worrying state and natural attributes of the next generation into the context of today’s business world clearly calls for a beginning evolutionary change.
While GenZ and Millennials are known for being the key drivers, I believe they are more likely in the role of awakening the minds of the status quo, to articulate and discuss the unspoken truths, like:
How do we carve out a path for a stable, sustainable and purpose-driven economy, while enduring exponential technological disruption?
Which skills and abilities do we need to develop in preparation for the next workforce in a new work paradigm?
How do we redefine principles of human interaction which can be applied in both, the analogue and digital world?
By addressing these and more unspoken truths, it is possible to bring back humanity and purpose, alongside efficiency and profit, into business.
Awakening of the Why
Instead of ‘finding’ your purpose, try reconnecting, reminding yourself and then, begin to redefine for what you used to stand for and what you’re willing to stand for in future. Rarely, companies are being built out of the pure idea of profit. It’s more of a matter to truly question yourself, reconstruct, and reincorporate the ‘Why’ of your shared mission.
Contribution for a Shared Goal
Use a clear, comprehensible and value-driven approach to make each team’s and each individual’s contribution a necessary part of achieving a shared goal. Try to determine impact-driven measurements, instead of only performance indicators, to answer the question: ‘What difference do I or we make to the final outcome?’
A Sense of Belonging
Foster interdisciplinarity and a culture of open learning, shared knowledge and cross-generational exchange, to fuel creativity, innovation and imagination much more effectively than through traditional approaches.
Thus, companies have a chance — which they are free to accept or not — to actively take charge in co-creating a work and leadership culture, that reinforces personal growth, emotional intelligence, imagination, shared knowledge and a sense of belonging. All of which, particularly GenZ and Millennials, need to develop in order to become effective in their role as future leaders.
Finally, no matter what age, we are all familiar with the feeling of being overwhelmed in a world of noise, fighting insecurities and isolation while seeking real human interactions, purpose-driven work and contributing to a shared goal as part of a larger community, aren’t we?