Millennials — The Search for Life Meaning
So many have written about millennials that I wouldn’t be out of line to consider this generation one of the most dissected and observed since the baby boomers. Be it from a historical, social, political, psychological, economic vantage point, now we boast with a massive number of studies and articles that portray a contradictory collective personality.
I believe that certain aspects need urgent clarification, particularly now, when the whole world must come to terms with the fact that by 2020, millennials will represent 50% of the global workforce and that they will be shaping the future of our beloved societies for many years to come.
So, what is the ultimate truth about millennials? Are they characterized by the same values and principles as the previous generations or how are they different? What is a priority for them, what are they advocating for and what drives them to success?
Before we plunge into our analysis, let me tell you a story about a close friend of mine. He is a millennial, just like me, and a performance marketing specialist at one of the most innovative online advertising agencies in the country. Not long ago, the agency embraced the 4-working-days-per-week rule, hoping that it will boost employee motivation and productivity, among other things. The management is still waiting for the final year results to kick in, but I can honestly say that for my friend this change has been quite challenging. In fact, he’s told me that it is difficult to simply detach from work, whether on vacation or during his 3-day-weekend. He is constantly thinking about his daily tasks and checking in on active campaigns, although he really needn’t bother too much. You see, reducing the number of working days in a week comes with the need to rely more on automation and less on the human touch.
I asked him why he thinks this happening and his answer was: “I feel unspeakably guilty when I’m relaxing! Not working on my personal or professional projects equals to wasting time. I can’t stop obsessing over work-related stuff especially when I should be taking time off. Sometimes I wake up at 4 A.M. and start working, it doesn’t matter if it’s a Sunday or a Tuesday. I’m constantly plugged in.”
This individual situation is actually representative for a more generalized state of affairs. Millennials, studies show, are self-reported work martyrs who consider that no one else can do their job as good, who won’t mind sending e-mails while dinning, or whom will pass on the opportunity to take days off simply because they are afraid of their boss thinking they are less dedicated to their job. These findings contradict the popular cultural narrative according to which Millennials are spoiled brats who expect to be handed out achievements rather than working for them.
Millennials are not willing to settle for mediocre careers neither — instead, they will be working hard to find work that they are passionate about, even if it means doing a boring low-paid job on the side. This was the case with my friend as well. He took a Master’s and had an internship that paid pennies, but he ploughed through the rough times until he was offered a full-time job in his domain of expertise. Compromising was never an option for him.
Hardworking and compensating with enthusiasm what they lack in experience, the Millennials I know are far from egocentric and self-absorbed, although social media would have you think otherwise. In fact, we were all raised in an age of exponential technological progress, with worldwide access to the internet and a wide variety of gadgets at hand. Curiosity, ambition and the desire to keep learning characterize them best, therefore, it’s no wonder they expect the technologies empowering their personal lives to also drive communication and innovation in the workplace.
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges that employers are faced with when hiring a Millennial is his or her drive to move quickly upwards through an organization, as well as the willingness to move on fast if expectations are not being met. Millennials are uncomfortable with rigid corporate structures and turned off by information silos. Furthermore, they need very regular feedback and encouragement, and particularly, open communication channels with their direct supervisor or manager. They need to feel that their work is worthwhile and that their efforts are being recognized and rewarded fairly. These are all characteristics that employers should focus on and actively address within their organization.
Another interesting fact about Millennials is that they are attracted to employer brands that they admire as consumers. For example, one study found that in 2008 almost 88% were looking for employers with CSR values that matched their own, while 86% considered leaving their current employer whose values no longer met their expectations. But what does this tell us about Millennials? Could it mean that they take their role as world citizens more seriously by adhering to organizations that are actively involved in creating a sustainable, more responsible society? I think this is the cases.
Unfortunately, few employers are actively fulfilling the Millennial’s job-related preferences or needs. As such, Gallup reveals that only 29% of them are engaged at work, 16% are actively disengaged (which means that they are out to do damage to their company) and another 55% are not engaged. Even more worrisome is that 60% of Millennials are open to a different job opportunity, and this is 15 percentage points higher than the percentage of non-millennial workers who say the same.
This suggests Millennials are stressed and worried (and aware of it), that they are occupied with getting a great job and going about it in a way that is conscientious and organized, while also unafraid of pushing the envelope and facing challenges. Looking at both long-term and short-term goals, I see a clear job focus, an attempt to address worry and stress, and to find deeper meaning and fulfillment in their lives.
Our final question is: are employers doing the same? If they would, maybe Millennials’ retention would be higher, and productivity too. There’s some food for thought.