The “Disengaged Generation”: Reflections from a Millenial

Jen Bunk
Jen Bunk
Feb 1, 2016 · 6 min read

This article is the first of three in a series about workplace engagement written by my students. I work closely with a small group of students on a relatively ongoing basis to help hone their research and writing skills. While I coach the students through the writing process, the words that follow are their own.

This week, I’m featuring an article written by Danielle Winter, who is an undergraduate Psychology major at West Chester University of Pennsylvania. I chose the broad topic of employee engagement and she zeroed in on the sub-topic: disengagement among millennials.

Here’s Danielle’s article.

As a millennial growing up in the age of an inopportune job market, a poor economy, and a prevalent use of social media, I am well aware of the struggles that the typical twenty-something faces when finding and keeping a job they like.

Engagement in the workplace, or in other words, caring about your work, is “a workplace approach designed to ensure that employees are committed to their organisation’s goals and values, motivated to contribute to organisational success, and are able at the same time to enhance their own sense of well-being.”

There are certain characteristics that engaged employees possess, such as a great work ethic, integrity, and a positive attitude. Employee engagement can also be observed through an employee’s active involvement in their work and a passion for getting their job done.

Graduate School

A career itself can make a big difference in how engaged an employee is. In today’s time, graduate school is almost a crucial part in obtaining a career. To the baby boomers and Generation X, graduate school may seem like an unnecessary financial burden that will not benefit the student. In these generations, it was common to obtain a job either right after high school or right after college with no necessary degree needed as much as today’s job market requires. Graduate school can not only improve the starting salary of a student who has been selected for a job but it can also help a new employee be given a job higher up in the corporate ladder. Attending graduate school could be seen as a means to increase employee engagement. It has been shown that the higher up the corporate ladder an employee is, the more engaged they are in their work.

Differences in Job Engagement

Not surprisingly, managers and executives are the most engaged in their jobs. In thinking about this, it is entirely possible that someone who has been interested in their work since starting their career possessed the drive to be promoted in their corporations. Another possibility is that at such an important position in a company, one must be actively involved in their work to prevent any negative consequences or downfalls of the company.

On the other side of the spectrum, workers who have careers in transportation, service, and manufacturing are the least engaged. These jobs can require very long hours, interaction with the general public that may be far from pleasant, as well as hard, physical labor. The laborious work plus the usually low pay can make these jobs feel burdensome and thus make the employee feel very far from engaged in the work that they are doing.

Generation Differences

When it comes to different ages and generations in the workplace, there are contrasts in the engagement of employees. Traditionalists are the most engaged generation in the workplace. Who exactly are the traditionalists? Traditionalists are the employees in the workplace who were born between the years 1922 and 1945. They are known as a quieter, more reserved generation. Traditionalists adhere strictly to authorities and the rules of the company. They are very loyal to their corporation and believe that work takes priority over their personal lives and fun. The traditionalists are very different in behavior and actions compared to millennials, or Generation Y. A new AARP study in 2015 stated that traditionalists, “have productive advantages that can make them a ‘critical component’ of a successful business.”

Generation Y is the generation born between 1981 and 2006. These millennials communicate frequently whether in person or over technology. Millennials are seen as optimistic, confident and committed to the ideas of having good moral and ethical principles. Millennials also do not like the idea of their work not having a means to an end. Millennials want to feel meaningful and that their work is important and is making a difference. Millennials are also the most diverse generation in the history of the workplace.

Gallup reports that Millennials are the least engaged generation. Possible reasons that they are the least involved in their work could include social media and the age of technology in their lives, the difficulty of obtaining a job in today’s society, and also the premise that millennials are seen as the “lazy” generation.

How to Stay Engaged

Because engagement is such an important aspect of productivity and overall job satisfaction, it is important to know how to remain engaged and stay satisfied with your job. There are many different ways that an employee can become more engaged in their workplace.

  • Have a relationship with a superior that has more personal tones than just a coworker/colleague relationship. When you have a superior in your workplace that genuinely cares about you and not just the work you produce, this can help vastly improve how invested you are in your corporation and work.
  • Take on challenges and strive to realize that you have an important job and make a difference in the company. Not only should you feel that you make an impact in your job, you should also make a point to get useful feedback from superiors and strive to improve on weaknesses.

On the flipside, there are many ways that managers can help their employees become or remain engaged.

  • Giving a lot of praise and feedback to employees after they have worked hard or done something well can make them feel appreciated and valued. This can result in continued progress in getting all work done efficiently.
  • Maintaining an interest in the employees themselves is also crucial. Simply asking how everything is going or if they have any concerns or questions can go a long way.
  • Always ask for opinions or thoughts on any decisions that affect employees. By making decisions without the input of employees, a clear gap in interests can be created between management and their subordinates.

Keeping both employees and their supervisors engaged can help prevent turnover and lost productivity. Eleven billion dollars is lost annually because of employee turnover which can be due to stress or unhappiness in the workplace. According to Forbes, the World Health Organization estimates that stress costs American businesses three hundred billion dollars a year.


Due to the current economy making jobs much harder to find than before, many people, especially millennials, may feel more pressured to take a job that is offered even if the job is in a field that they are not particularly interested in. This may be a main factor affecting the engagement of millennials in the workplace. As a millennial who has to go through graduate school before finding a job in the industrial-organizational psychology field, one of my biggest fears is settling for a job that I do not enjoy and having to spend my life in a career that does not fulfill me. I hope that myself, along with my generational peers, can not only find jobs that enrich us but also not be afraid to not settle for a career that does not make us happy.

Hey there tech managers! Is leading your team like herding cats? 🐱 🐱🐱Are you sick of making stuff up, without trusted systems to guide you? Are your days filled with useless, time-sucking meetings? Join my Facebook group with other tech geeks who are coming together to build thriving, high-performing teams who don’t need constant hand-holding. No H.R. B.S. Real stories, from real geeks, who understand the nuances of being a techie. Click here to join:


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Jen Bunk

Written by

Jen Bunk

Career Coach for Tech Managers. I help tech managers upgrade their careers, their teams, their paychecks, and their lives.


We help people work better.

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