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Millennials Aren’t More Motivated By “Purpose” Than The Rest Of Us

Source | FastCompany : By RICH BELLIS 

Millennials are a demanding bunch, or so it would seem. Deloitte’s 2016 Millennial Survey reports that, if it were up to them, the cohort “would place far greater emphasis than current leaders on ‘employee wellbeing’ and ‘employee growth and development.’ They would be less focused on ‘personal income/reward’ or ‘short-term financial goals.’” That missing sense of meaning and opportunity appears to be lacking so grievously that, as Deloitte researchers put it, “Millennials have one foot out the door” of their current employers.

This finding is no outlier. Deloitte discovered much the same thing last year and the year before that and the year before that. It would seem that ever since there have been millennials in the workforce, they’ve been hungering for more purposeful work. Gallup’s long-running survey on employee engagement finds millennials to be the generation “least engaged” with their jobs, with just 31% reporting themselves sufficiently engaged.

And “ping-pong tables and espresso machines” won’t change that, Gallup CEO Jim Clifton recently warned the Society for Human Resource Management (invoking a cliche of a cliche). Employers, in his view—and in the views, more or less, of Deloitte, PwC, and the Center for Generational Kinetics—need to think bigger. Trying merely to boost millennials’ job “satisfaction,” Clifton said, “is condescending. They want a higher purpose and want to know what they can become.”

But really, who doesn’t?


That’s no rhetorical question. But before trying to answer it, let’s get a few of things out of the way: First, it’s true that employee turnover is high and expected to climb higher as average tenures shrink and younger workers in particular get comfortable (wisely or not) with job hopping. Second, it’s true that many of these studies paint a clear diagnosis of the problem—of disenchanted young professionals all searching for meaningful work and failing to find it. The data really is both overwhelming and consistent.

But, third—and despite appearances to the contrary—we still know precious little about the core traits that millennials, as a generational unit, actually share.

The reason is methodological. “Much of the research on millennials is difficult to decipher,” explains Dr. Katina Sawyer, associate professor of psychology at Villanova University, “because we don’t have longitudinal studies that tell us whether or not we are capturing age effects . . . or actual stable generational differences.” Most studies simply take a snapshot of a generation at a single point in time or at very close intervals. “So, all generational research needs to be taken with a grain of salt,” she cautions, “given that we don’t have data that has followed older generations’ attitudes over time.”

Fast Company columnist Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic recently made an identical observation—and took it a step further: “Even if average differences between generations do exist,” he argued, “they still aren’t big enough to eliminate the wide range of individual differences when it comes to any relevant career trait.”

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