The Unsettling of America: The Next Phase of Progress In/At Work
There’s a TV ad about people ‘settling’ for cable while other, more advanced options now exist. The premise is that the ‘Settlers’ family, who are made fun of, have not evolved and are not taking advantage of sophisticated improvements in entertainment services as their neighbors have. At the core, this advertisement is contrasting the mindsets of the two families. This appears to be symbolic of the changing attitudes and, perhaps, in part, the generational differences, that we are witnessing nationwide.
There is much debate about actual fundamental generational, versus age and life-stage, similarities. Whatever your opinion about Millennials, what does seem clear is that there is a different mindset and approach to work between those who entered the corporate world when work was a place, with fixed rules, walls and times, and happiness was a word not associated with gainful employment, and those who did not.
For the majority of Gen-Xers and Boomers, companies and jobs in the past did not offer many options. Choices were often limited to what company you worked at, and what work you did, not where, when and or how you worked. The ‘why’ was the paycheck. Period. Life happened after work. You made the best decision you could, and then put up with the rest. You made peace with the arrangement, or tried as best you could. That was the way it was. You settled.
Millennials appear to be at the forefront of the evolving perspectives. From their first days on the job, they have been armed with significant mobile computing power, almost ubiquitous information and access, and a plethora of expanding choices. At this new stage of development, with a much more comprehensive world view, they react differently: They don’t settle.
Millennials are demanding more: more from their work, more from their employers, more from their lives. They look at older workers’ stress resulting from the rigidity of ‘traditional’ work roles and models and, with their understanding of new possibilities, challenge their validity, to the core. This isn’t about seeming to be disrespectful because of contextual disconnects. It’s more about a manifestation of their broader questioning (at times refuting) of the status quo. Any ‘disrespect’ is shown toward support of legacy models and habits ‘for the sake of it’. Don’t they have a point?
It’s not about laziness or entitlement. It’s about making the best of what we have…which is more than we had before. This is about leveraging new tools and understanding to maximize the potential of each one of us. We have the capabilities to make work fit well with the rest of our lives, not the other way round, and allow each one of us to excel as a result. We can now leverage technologies as individual personal and professional resources to improve our situations. So why wouldn’t we?
The reality is that there are widespread judgments, opinions born of habit, and often-unrecognized decisions to shun new information/flexibility (despite proven benefits) and stagnate in legacy routines. These are hindering significant potential advancement in the workplace that would be benefiting workers and companies alike. In contrast, starting from first principles, Millennials are demanding to be convinced that traditional operating practices should prevail and are not in conflict with logic and optimal, customized working habits in the new digitally-enabled work environment. Most workers are aligning with this direction, generating further momentum, as all generations are looking for viable work-related solutions.
That doesn’t mean the road ahead is easy or straight forward. ‘Unsettling’ can surely be destabilizing as boundaries fall away and new options bring uncertainty to begin with. On the professional side, most Millennials don’t have long experience to leverage when making necessary career decisions and look for mentors for support. Gen-Xers and Boomers are mostly not used to, and therefore not comfortable with, so many new options, especially without the strict boundaries they were previously confined to. Plus, with the additional choices comes more responsibility for all, and it takes effort and attention to achieve the possible and desired beneficial outcomes.
Similarly, for corporations, time and energy is necessary to address every employee individually. Implementing customized career planning successfully means helping each employee: clarify and define their preferred working style; create their optimal personal working profile; leverage their strengths; develop their potential and engage in their work and future fully.
This next phase of progress may feel more complicated than previous ones, considering all the customization and non-linear job movement anticipated. We’re in transition and not much is totally clear, defined or formulaic yet. It means taking risks and everyone involved needs to be accountable for their part. With thoughtful assimilation of advancements, significant benefits will be achieved.
Doing nothing is also a choice, but it cannot be a step forward for you or your business. Progress is the lifeblood of the American people and has been the cornerstone of this country’s success. It is not a question of ‘if’ or ‘why’, but ‘when’ and ‘how’ you and your company adapts. The sooner you fully engage in the process, the greater strategic advantage you will have and progress you will make.
Now is NOT the time to belong to the Settlers family.
Sophie Wade is a Workforce Innovation Specialist and writes and speaks regularly about Future of Work issues — including workplace flexibility, employee engagement, new career experience management and intergenerational communication. Her forthcoming book, Embracing Progress, will be coming out early in 2017.
Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com on April 12, 2016.