Much has been made of the results of a recent survey of the so-called “Millennial” generation: defined as those between the ages of 18 and 29, in which they did not claim a strong work ethic was a defining trait of their generation.
Some commentators have slammed the Millennials for being “spoiled and lazy” as a result. I am not among them. Despite the temptation, as a middle-aged codger, to do what every generation since at least the Ancient Greeks has done by bad mouthing the younger folks, I must admit that I admire the honesty and perceptiveness of these young ‘uns.
Those older folks who decry the lack of enthusiasm for the 9-to-5 routine among these new members of the workforce are, in my opinion, making the mistake of looking at things based on their own perceptions of reality rather than what these Millennials have observed.
Think about it: when I was growing up, the narrative was if you do well in school, work hard and are loyal to your employer, you will be rewarded with a good income and financial security. And let’s face it, when my generation was growing up, our observations seemed to bear this out. People would work for decades on the shop floor and if they were fortunate enough not to die before retirement, they pretty well had it made. A nice pension, health insurance, a paid-off mortgage… It seemed like a good deal.
But think of what the Millennials are seeing: people who have done well in school and who have worked loyally and hard for their employers for decades are simply shunted aside just shy of retirement age and are left with no financial security and no job prospects. If I were in their place, working my ass off for some ungrateful employer would be the LAST damned thing I’d want to spend my life doing.
I spoke with people even older than me (yes, they do exist) who slammed these younger workers for their lack of loyalty to a company and their tendency to move from job to job whenever a better prospect would arise. They viewed this as a negative trait, but from the viewpoint of the Millennials, it was a rational decision. Why be “loyal” when such loyalty won’t bring any rewards in the long run? From their perspective, it makes sense for them not to get too involved in a job. They’re actually making shrewd observations of economic reality and are making their decisions and adjusting their values accordingly. In the past, people busted their asses for the boss because it would be worth it in the long run. Now, however, that the stick no longer has a carrot attached, why pull the bossman’s cart?
Perhaps these Millennials will be pioneers in formulating a new lifestyle which strikes a more healthy balance between the stresses of work and the joys of living. Perhaps they will learn to work to live rather than live to work.
So, to all you 18-29 year olds out there: more power to you. Learn from our mistakes and find your own path. You’re more than just a paycheck and a job description.