Millennials: The Purpose Generation?

Millennials: The Purpose Generation?

In a recent global survey of millennials, a majority of respondents in all 25 countries said a sense of purpose was an important consideration for them in deciding where to work. But are millennials, as they are often described, distinctly purpose-driven? Maybe not, Rich Bellis suggests at Fast Company:

So why all the hand-wringing over millennials and their supposedly unprecedented thirst for purposeful work? As leadership consultant and clinical psychologist Dr. Constance Dierickx points out, “Millennials are a generation of people that have a really big microphone called social media,” which recruiters, HR leaders, and a bevvy of experts have become just as adept at scouring for insights as marketers have. (It’s worth adding that virtually all the firms that publish research about millennials also sell consulting services to companies struggling to hire and retain them.)

“The idea that young adults have an urge to do meaningful work is not new,” Dierickx says. “I’m a baby boomer, and if you took a list of words about millennials and showed it to baby boomers and asked, ‘Does this describe you when you were 21?” we’d say, ‘Yeah!’” In other words, young people have always wanted to do meaningful work and have felt less motivated to do it for a fat paycheck. What we’re seeing now, she wagers, may be “a natural sort of pendulum-swing from, ‘Everybody wants to become an investment banker’ to ‘I want to do good in the world.’ ‘Purpose’ has become a euphemism for [the latter], but your purpose can be anything,” she says. …

According to [Dr. Katina Sawyer, associate professor of psychology at Villanova University], “When it comes to motivation, the picture is more clearly universal. In fact, the research suggests that regardless of generation, people want to be connected to something greater at work—a meaning or a purpose that is larger than just a paycheck.” People of all ages, she says, report that “they would continue working, regardless of whether or not they needed the money.”

Indeed, “millennial” behaviors and preferences keep turning out not to be all that unique after all: Any employee, of any generation, would tend to prefer a meaningful job with great co-workers that pays well and offers lots of opportunities for growth. Millennials just happen to be the largest segment of the working population now, so their values may strongly color the broader picture of what the workforce wants, but not all trends driven by millennials are necessarily specific to millennials.

(CEB Corporate Leadership Council members can read more of our research separating millennial myths from facts here.)