My pet peeve of the moment is the generational debate — the one that usually starts and ends with how screwed up millennials are.
You’ve heard it all before: “Millennials are self-centered job-hoppers who will take a new job the minute you don’t offer them flexibility, state-of-the-art technology, career development, and above all, a job that’s driven by purpose and meaning.”
What a load of crap.
Millennials want flexibility? State-of-the-art technology? Career development? Purpose and meaning in their work?
Show me somebody who doesn’t want these things. This isn’t a millennial problem, or a Gen Xer problem, or a boomer problem. This is an organizational problem — a societal problem.
So imagine my relief when I saw the Fast Company article titled “Millennials Aren’t More Motivated By ‘Purpose’ Than The Rest Of Us.” Here’s what author Rich Bellis has to say:
According to (Dr. Katina Sawyer, associate professor of psychology at Villanova University), “When it comes to motivation, the picture is 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.”
So if generational differences aren’t the problem, what is?
It might be that business — and mankind as a whole — have entered a new era.
In their important book When Millennials Take Over: Preparing for the Ridiculously Optimistic Future of Business, Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant argue that business models, not generations, are in the midst of groundbreaking transformation. “Generations that were born with social business in their DNA find themselves frustrated as they try to operate in traditional bureaucracies and hierarchies,” Notter and Grant write.
Count millennials among the most frustrated. They’re working for hopelessly outdated organizations that either don’t get or refuse to acknowledge the social movement.
But they won’t be frustrated for long. By 2020, millennials will be the largest segment of the U.S. workforce, “just as they are ascending into management positions,” the authors write. When that day comes, millennials will change business to work the way they do — and the coming shift in management and leadership will be nothing short of transformational.
That transformation comes at the dawn of a new era for mankind. William Strauss and Neil Howe, who have tracked generations through the ages, have determined that “once every four generations in this country, there is a major transition which has a deep impact on our national culture, politics, and economy.” From the Revolutionary War of the 1770s to the Civil War of the 1860s to the Great Depression and World War II, major transitions have occurred in this country roughly every 80 to 100 years.
“Here’s where it starts to get even more interesting,” Notter and Grant write. “If you skip ahead 80 years from the Depression and World War II, you end up in the present. … The millennial generation (is) entering young adulthood during … a time that history predicts will be yet another significant transition, from one era to the next.”
What will that transition look like? Time will tell. What is clear is that millennials — or any other generation, for that matter — are not to blame for any of the chaos we’re feeling in the workforce today. Generational differences are the same as they’ve always been. We simply fear what we don’t understand.
The real problem is that in an era of unprecedented societal change, our business models are hopelessly outdated. We can’t possibly hope to outrun this pace of change without massively transforming our business models at the same time.
The more time we spend griping about generational differences, the less time we’ll spend addressing the real problem.
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