Posted on March 27 in Social Responsibility

Regardless of Labels, Generations Aren’t That Different When It Comes to Work

Meaningful work and work/life balance appeal whatever your career stage


When was the first time something popped out of your mouth that sounded just like mom? Internal horrors like that just keep coming as you realize that somehow, she—or another sage elders—really did know best.

There’s been a lot made of Millennials and their behavior, needs, expectations and more over the past years. I understand—we’ve kind of written the handbook on the care and feeding of the species on the fly. That said, much like Dr. Spock on raising infants, I don’t believe there are that many fundamental differences between Millennials and the rest of us and, as I mentor, my mother’s advice has a tendency to pop out of my mouth, despite the fact the social landscape now is unrecognizable to what we knew entering the workforce, and dramatic external forces have changed Millennials much like other recessions/wars/economic hardships have shaped GenX, GenY and Boomers. The advice still applies. Pick yourself up and keep going. Grow. Learn. Get out there.

A recent appearance on a business talk show, where I was placed between two Millennials, showed we really are fundamentally alike despite the age gap.

I was invited to appear as part of a panel on the Stone Payton show on Atlanta Biz Radio X. First up was David Sheehan, branch manager of recruiting powerhouse Robert Half/The Creative Group.  Closing out the show was Chris Butsch, or @HappyGuyChris, the Millennial Happiness Expert. Chris uses science to explain Millennials to the rest of us.

When asked what Millennials are looking for in a job role, David replied, “They want to feel like they’re part of something bigger. That what they do matters. They don’t want to punch a time clock or be stuck in a one-dimensional role. They want to make a difference.”

Then it was my turn to talk about hiring and managing staff. At ST!R Marketing, I didn’t have Millennials. Well, I had one, but she’s an old soul. My team was made up of experienced, seasoned, unshakeable professionals, some of whom were older than I.

In the interview, I said I hired my team for their skill, their connections, and their work ethic, but that our goals are hardly almost identical to a Millennial’s.

At this stage of our careers, we know a lot, but still need and want to learn. We have institutional knowledge that’s useful not to keep things as they are, but to provide context for change. And we’re good and fast at our jobs, taking pride in dependably returning an excellent product.

However we, too, want work/life balance; not to paddle board or get in that yoga class (I wish), but often because we’re raising children, caring for parents, or both. We, like many colleagues older and younger, love being asked to grow and being told we’re doing a great job.

Chris closed by outlining some significant foundations of Millennial thinking I’d not considered.

This generation grew up in the middle of a significant economic recession, mass layoffs and offshoring of jobs. Employee/employer loyalty, which meant long-term engagements at corporations, disappeared—we’ve experienced that, too. Millennials have the same dreams of prior generations; they’re just hustling to make it happen, because no one else will do it for them.

Looking around our country at groups who’ve seen their jobs offshored or eliminated due to automation, it’s clear that feeling extends far beyond the Millennial generation. Millennials are just programmed to keep ahead of the curve, learning new skills and applying themselves, often unhindered by those things Gen X’ers are—a mortgage, children, aging parents, higher tax burdens and more.

I remember my father losing his middle management bank job at 55, and thought, “Poor thing. Who is going to hire him?” Surprising us all, he graduated top of his class as a notary, using his business skills to advise small businesses through that role until his final 15-year job came along. He was a great case study at old dogs learning new tricks to stay relevant in their market; if you wait for opportunity to come to you, you’re probably going to wait a long while.

Really, from my perspective we don’t have a chasm between our generations so much as we have a crack in the sidewalk. It’s all a matter of perspective on how easy it is to connect—or not. It was heartening to learn through this radio interview that we really are all the same under the skin. There are people who don’t fit the mold, of course, but overall, we want to matter. We want to be meaningful, to make a difference in the world

There I go again. I DO sound like my mother, espousing her tenets to my children—that being happy is more than money; that value is more than a salary, and “being meaningful” starts with you, whatever generation you may be.



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