I love Jeopardy. Growing up, I would play along with my parents, always relishing the few times I was able to beat Mom or Dad. These days I still try to catch it whenever possible, and I—like so many others– was utterly charmed by recent champion Austin Rogers.
The New York City bartender who wears secondhand clothes, doesn’t own a television and bikes to work embodied Millennial ethos as he proceeded to wipe the floor with his competition for 12 days to the tune of $411,000, bringing down lawyers, software engineers, journalists and project managers in his wake.
That’s how you do it, I thought as I watched. Tend bar. Host trivia nights. Play Jeopardy. That’s working to live, not living to work.
Over the weekend I came across “Adulting So far: Why I Quit My Software Engineering Job” by Jamelle Watson-Daniels. Expecting yet another Millennial quit-lit piece, I found it to be an astute examination of how organizations are failing at meeting the expectations of young, smart people. Watson-Daniels makes that point crystal clear:
“On some level, the outdated company cultures rely on people expecting the job to be a method of survival. But as we expand what it means to have a meaningful life and work to offer that same life standard to all people, this expectation is becoming null and void. I would rather get three roommates, not have children, and offer freelance tutoring than to be in this type of huge company culture.”
As a woman in her 40s with a family and a mortgage, I find it hard to relate to the last line—though I certainly understand it. But the part about having a meaningful life? That hits home for me, and probably does for many people.
We (GenX-ers and Boomers) love to talk about how different Millennials are from the older generations. But studies show that all three generations desire the same outcome: a sense of purpose, to feel that their work matters and that they are contributing to the greater good. A 2015 report from IBM’s Institute for Business Value showed that in a multigenerational study of 1,784 employees from companies across 12 countries and six industries, about the same percentage of Millennials (25%) want to make a positive impact on their organization as GenXers (21%) and Baby Boomers (23%).
Turns out we all want the same thing. It’s just the response to not getting it that is different. Boomers will actively disengage. Active disengagement means that not only are these folks unhappy at work, but they go out of their way to express that unhappiness through words, attitudes and actions.
GenXers will grind it out unhappily, doing what they can to bring about organizational culture shifts. Or, they’ll start a business. Generation X is the fastest growing demographic of entrepreneurs.
But Millennials will leave and not look back. They’ll tend bar and play Jeopardy. They’ll work side hustles to make ends meet.
For organizations, this has been a wake-up call. As more of the Boomer workforce continues to retire, they need to attract the next generation of workers, and quickly. And so the workplace is changing, with many organizations focusing on initiatives that foster greater work/life integration, flexibility and autonomy. While the expectations of Millennials generally get credit for the shift, all generations stand to benefit.
Policy changes are a good start, but it’s important for organizations to spend time connecting the dots to show employees how the work they do every day directly impacts the health and success of their workplace. If employees want purpose and meaning, build a compelling case as to how your organization—and their work—are contributing to the greater good.