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Millennials: Generation “Me” or Generation “Meaning”?

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As millennials (defined roughly as those born after 1979) have entered the workplace, they have been accused of self-centeredness, short attention spans and a sense of entitlement. The implication of these stereotypes is that millennials at work are unlikely to be invested in causes bigger than themselves. Yet, the 2014 Millennial Impact Study begins to debunk these myths. This report focuses on the extent to which millennials are inspired and motivated by their company’s engagement with social causes. In fact, millennials ranked a company’s involvement with social causes as the third most important factor in deciding whether to apply for a job. Coming in at #1 and #2, respectively, were “what the company specifically does, sells or produces” and “the company’s work culture.” Notably absent from the top three were pay and prestige. It is time to stop defining millennials as “generation me” and to start seeing them as “generation meaning.”

In other words, instead of solely working for personal gains, millennials are motivated by engagement with colleagues and causes. For millennials, work, community and relationships are all intricately linked, rather than distinct spheres of life. While older generations may have preferred to keep their values and friendships separate from the work that they do to “pay the bills,” millennials make no such distinction. The report found that the majority of millennials want to engage in volunteerism through their company and with their coworkers. Millennials want to share their authentic selves and their unique knowledge and skills with their organization and their communities.

For companies that want to fully engage their millennial employees, this report yields several important take-aways.

  1. Challenge the assumption that millennials are “generation me” and start seeing them as “generation meaning.” From initial recruitment throughout the employment relationship, assume that millennials are searching for meaning in their work and their company.
  2. Create a culture of authenticity and openness. Millennials don’t want to check their values and passions at the door. By creating opportunities for employees to express their authentic selves at work, they will find greater meaning and commitment to the organization.
  3. Use social engagement as a way to strengthen relationships at work. Millennials want to develop meaningful relationships with their colleagues. Cause work can be a great opportunity to develop high-quality relationships – which will then translate to more effective communication and collaboration on work assignments.
  4. Use engagement with social causes as an opportunity for employees to stretch their skills and hone their talents. Pro bono work can facilitate employee development and growth in a way that benefits the organization.

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/hadesigns / CC BY-NV-ND 2.0

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dr. Alyssa Westring published on August 4, 2014 7:38 AM.

Pre-Conference Training: Working Effectively as a Flexible Team was the previous entry in this blog.

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