It’s a fundamental question: Do you want the generations who follow you to have it better than you did?
Last week, I posted a piece on LinkedIn: Why Millennials Keep Dumping You: An Open Letter to Management. The responses revealed a stark division in people’s perspective about work, and their hopes for the next generation.
The piece was primarily written by my daughter, Elizabeth McLeod, a millennial who is a project manager in our consulting firm. Elizabeth described why millennials want purpose and meaning in their jobs, and why they’re frustrated with organizations that treat employees like nothing but a number. She wrote, “I was raised to believe I can change the world. I’m desperate for you to show me that the work we do here matters, even just a little bit. I’ll make copies, I’ll fetch coffee, I’ll do the grunt work. But I’m not doing it to help you get a new Mercedes.”
The article went viral. Over 1,000 people commented, they either loved it, or loathed it. As of this writing Why Millennials Keep Dumping You has over 1.1 million views, and it keeps climbing. The comments fall into three general buckets:
When Elizabeth wrote, I want to be surrounded by people who are on fire for what we’re doing,” millennials around the world chimed in about their frustrations with meaningless work. A video teller at a bank wrote, “This could’ve been written from the depths of my soul. ” One millennial at Ford said, “I always tell my boss: give me purpose and a great leader and I will give all I have to get the job done.”
Leaders who want to same thing also spoke up.
One VP said, “People (of all ages) need a purpose and want to matter.”
Another executive commented, “Good leaders provide the vision and purpose that millennials crave. Unfortunately for millennials, there are a lot more managers than there are leaders.” A CEO said, “The Millennials in our company are critical to the productivity and culture. They are in it to make a difference. I love their energy and commitment.”
Then there were the naysayers.
One man wrote, “ Are you freaking serious!? It’s called a JOB. And guess what cupcake, not every job you work is going to make you feel like you won a trophy at the end of your day.” Several were so enraged they wrote response articles. One said, “Ultimately, we are all numbers to this company. The only reason a business exists is to make money. Get used to being a number.”
My colleague summed up their comments as, “The overarching theme of the negative comments is, ‘MY job is grinding and meaningless and I don’t see why you damn kids should want anything more meaningful than what I settled for.’”
This makes me equally sad and frustrated, sad because people expect, and accept, so little for themselves. But I’m frustrated, actually more like enraged, by people who believe, no one should have it better than me.
We stand on the shoulders of giants. How many of our ancestors risked everything so that we could have the lives we do? My great grandparents did farm labor so that I could be a college graduate.
Now the millennials want work to be more meaningful and humane. Wanting more doesn’t mean that the new generation is ungrateful. It simply means they’re pushing for progress just as hard as the people who came behind them.