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June 2012
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Millennials look for meaning in work, life

By L. Darryl Armstrong

"We have met the enemy and he is us!" -- Pogo

Most of us Baby Boomers and Xers don't recall creating a disturbance when we entered the market place. We've forgotten that the Greatest Generation saw us as possibly the end of the their dreams and their aspirations for our country. In the 1950s, the comic strip character Pogo even proclaimed we were the enemy.

The generational differences we have discussed thus far between the M-Generation and the rest of us indicate that there will be as much, if not more, angst with this incoming group of employees. Some might say we are facing the greatest crisis of the work force in more than 60 years.

I am not so pessimistic.

However, I would postulate that the M-Generation is simply a reflection once again of the turbulent process of generations getting to understand one another's different behaviors and behavioral responses.

Just as we brought our strengths and weaknesses to the table when we integrated into the work environment, so do the M-Generation new hires.

Many of my colleagues believe that the M-Generation will bring a new paradigm to the work place that will be of benefit to us - expansive and engaging collaboration. Please allow me to explain.

Millennials want to find meaning in what they do. Now, such a desire is not unique to this generation, as many of us sought for "meaning of our lives" over the past six decades. And some of us looked for meaning in "sex, drugs and rock and roll" before zeroing in on careers and families.

Authors Lancaster and Stillman note that each generation has had a different view of what constitutes "meaning."

As Boomers, we found meaning in the "long climb upwards to success" by working hard, paying our dues, and playing "politics" in the work place because we believed that ultimately we would achieve a position of prominence and influence. We delayed our gratification expecting a reward later rather than sooner. We assimilated a great deal of this thinking and resulting behavioral responses from our own parents who had been loyal Trojans, often to a single company for more than 50 years.

However, in the 1980s as I was on that corporate ladder climb, I found myself having to make difficult decisions. When employees were being swept aside to positively impact an organization's "bottom-line," I began to realize the concept of "delayed gratification" was probably not the best career decision for me.

When GenXers came into the workplace, they had seen enough evidence to confirm their doubts about the so called "long-term benefits" of hard work and delayed gratification.

GenXers had witnessed dramatic increases in divorce rates and massive "downsizing" with terminations and layoffs from companies to whom Boomers had given much sweat, tears and loyalty.

Xers watching the rapid market cycles of boom and bust and the globalization of business became convinced that it's better to find meaning in the present moment and in something other than their job. It began to appear that their job was a temporary condition at best for many. They became skeptical of businesses and organizations with their seemingly meaningless commitments to their employees.

Therefore, Xers found meaning in a work and life balance and invested as much energy in developing their hobbies, sports, passions, and relationships as Boomers did into growing their professional success.

So how did this affect ideas about what constitutes a meaningful life and work experience to the M-Generation?

First, Millennials want to experience meaning in their life and work now. This is difficult for us Boomers to understand probably because it makes us question the paths we have pursued and the costs we have experienced on that path to success. We delayed gratification, and we ask why can't they?

On the other hand, many Boomers have told their Millennial children, "If you are going to work hard for a lifetime, find something to do that has meaning for you."

We Boomers have told them that they should not put off meaningful satisfaction indefinitely. If it can't be found in the here and now, it may not come at all. Unlike their Xer older siblings, Millennials are much less skeptical about organizations, businesses, institutions and systems.

The M-Generation believes that it's possible to experience just as much satisfaction on the clock as off. As we observed, they "plug in and wire up" and then go about doing their work while listening to their music or podcasts, surfing the Internet, or tweeting their extended family. They relish in multi-tasking, and we, as Boomers and Xers, question how they can handle this multichannel approach to life and work because it's such a foreign concept to us.

My conclusion is this: we will survive and prosper this newest generation just as the Greatest Generation survived us and we prospered.

L. Darryl Armstrong is a crisis prevention and management consultant. He is reachable at 1-888-340-2006 or drdarryl@aol.com. His website is www.ldarrylarmstrong.com. He is available on a limited basis for speaking engagements and workshops.

Sources: The M- Factor: How the Millennial Generation is Rocking the Workplace" by Lynne C. Lancaster and David Stillman (Harper Collins, 2010)

PWC.Com - Millennials in the Work Place - Reshaping the World https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/managing-tomorrows-people/future-of-work/assets/reshaping-the-workplace.pdf

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