Is purpose a privilege or a right?

This past week I had the opportunity to spend time at a convention for an amazing group of business owners in the trade services industry. This group of entrepreneurs are the definition of hard work and determination: long hours, physical labor, not a lot of complaining, and even less time to spend on anyone who does. For many, they are Baby Boomers, who grew up with the influence of their parents, the WWII generation, that told them dedication, mastery, and an honest day’s work are what build character and define you as a person. And this generation followed that lead.

Now, the Boomers are facing a whole new challenge: a new generation that doesn’t completely buy in to these notions of what work is. For this new generation, Millennials, it’s not how hard you work, it’s working smart. It’s not the number of hours put in, its efficiency of time. It’s not sacrificing everything for the job, it’s valuing personal time and making time for their life. And perhaps the biggest difference, it is not working for the sake of working, but rather seeking to find purpose in what they do.

For many of the Boomer generation, this perspective is tough to swallow, and severely limits their respect for Millennials. This leads to a lot of name calling. They see kids as a group who are not dedicated to their jobs the way they were, that they don’t care, and are unwilling to put in the effort they did when they were younger. For them growing up, it didn’t matter if you liked your work or not, you worked. That just the way it was. Job satisfaction, while may have been spoken about, wasn’t something people gave true voice to. A job was a job. The company paid you and provided a lifestyle for you. That was all they owed to you. If you didn’t like it, good luck trying to find something else.

Over the last 30 or so years, the idea and perceptions of work have drastically changed, with a large part due to the mentality shift in younger workers. Now, championed by Millennials, work needs to be more. It needs to be fulfilling, it needs to be empowering, and it needs to give purpose. We have moved up the metaphorical Maslow’s hierarchy of needs when looking at jobs. The base needs were satisfied, now they require more.

This is what led to conversations I had last week with a few Boomers: why is it my responsibility to provide purpose for my employees? That’s not my job. My job is to provide a place to work and a paycheck. They can look for purpose on their own.

It then begs the question: is purpose in your job a right, or a privilege?

For many Millennials, it is a right. They constantly seek purpose in what they do. They want to know that what they are doing on a daily basis, and what the company does as a whole, matters. That they are accomplishing something greater than themselves. That they are accomplishing something greater than profit and shareholder price.

And when Millennials aren’t getting this, when they feel like a cog in the wheel, they leave to try and find it somewhere else. That why you see Millennials turning over at twice the rate of any other generation. They are unwilling to settle. What they want from work is more than just a paycheck, they want purpose.

Many view this as entitlement, as needing too much, and expecting more than they should. And perhaps it is. But the reality is that to Millennials, this is now the minimum standard. And when purpose is found in a job, that is when you will see the buy-in and commitment you’d like in them. That’s when you get employees who care as much as you do. That’s when you’ll see people stay longer, and buy in to that crazy idea of loyalty. Give people purpose, and you unlock a whole new side of people you can’t find anywhere else.

The debate may still continue to decide if purpose is a right or privilege, but what is abundantly clear is that is important. Build a culture that gives purpose, and you’ll have a workforce that will deliver.