How Millennials View Work

By Gary Zustiak

Did you hear about the young college graduate who was interviewing for his first job? When the HR director asked him what he was looking for, the young man explained that he wished to start at a salary of $100K, be placed in a corner office, and have his own secretary.

The HR guy responded by offering to add a matching dollar for dollar to his 401K as well an automobile of his choice, preferably a BMW. He looked at the young man and asked how that sounded.

He replied, “Are you kidding me?”

The HR guy said, “Of course I am, but you started it.”1

This joke typifies how many people see millennials as they head into the work force. Not everyone has the same idea about what it takes to get a good job or what it takes to keep one. The different generations definitely have varying opinions when it comes to work.

What Do Millennials Want from Work?

Boomers are perplexed by the attitudes millennials bring to the workplace. There are scores of articles on the Internet written by managers and human resource professionals who seek to educate businesses and bosses on how to understand millennial attitudes toward work and how to integrate them into the existing workforce. The Intelligence Group reported some key findings about millennials:

• 64% of them say it’s a priority for them to make the world a better place.

• 72% would like to be their own boss. But if they do have to work for a boss, 79 percent of them would want that boss to serve more as a coach or mentor.

• 88% prefer a collaborative work-culture rather than a competitive one.

• 74% want flexible work schedules.

• And 88% want “work-life integration,” which isn’t the same as work-life balance, since work and life now blend together inextricably.2

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While millennials . . . may be known as the tech-infused generation, a recent study found the majority of them crave more in-person collaboration with colleagues and less of what the current workplace paradigm serves up: a culture of emailing, texting, and telecommuting. . . .

“Organizations think millennials want to do everything remotely, but the truth is they’re more relational and use technology to enhance their connection with family, friends and colleagues,” says Lynn Lancaster, co-founder of the generational consultancy BridgeWorks and co-author of When Generations Collide. . . .

Millennials actually like to work in teams more than their elders, so employers should guard against overemphasizing tech connectedness at the expense of the esprit de corps that face time produces. . . .

They may be hitting their tech limit: 38 percent said they’ve been subjected to “technology overload” on the job, and 41 percent encountered an “information overload.” That compares with 21 percent and 31 percent, respectively, for boomers and Gen Xers.3

Gina Belli reports that “research . . . conducted alongside the University of Southern California and the London Business School [found that] for millennials, work-life balance is perhaps the single most important factor when choosing, and keeping, a job.”4

09_Zustiak_JNOther points in Belli’s article:

• Millennials want to bring about a change in our culture and its attitude about work. They don’t want to see work as a “grind” or burden.

• They believe people shouldn’t continue with work just because they always have.

• They are willing to work hard, but they are not into the 60-hour workweek defined by the baby boomers. Home, spending time with the children, and family are priorities, as well as spending time with friends.

• Millennials are comfortable with giving up the professional success sometimes required by overwork early in a career. They are redefining how you measure success.

Millennials do not want to see any separation between work and fun, between colleagues and friendships. Employers should somehow take advantage of this by creating communities or teams on the job where they can interact with others, and relate to them personally as well as professionally.

In some respects, millennials do seem to want to have their cake and eat it too. That is, they want high pay and status, but aren’t as interested in burning the midnight oil or making the necessary sacrifices to obtain it. The combination of not wanting to work hard or make a company commitment but still wanting more money and status is typical of the sense of entitlement many millennials have grown up with.

While millennials claim to love and embrace diversity, in practice they come up short. Yes, they are the most racially diverse generation and are comfortable with interracial dating and marriage. But they can be highly intolerant of those not of their generation. Here’s how one millennial puts it:

We are ageist. This was the most surprising thing I learned—and the most alarming. As a generation, we embrace diversity (in theory), but it seems we’re failing to extend this same inclusivity to those even just a few years older. Maybe once we overcome the notion that the industry is nothing without our fresh perspective, we can truly appreciate the power of experience and see Xers, boomers and beyond as an incredible source of knowledge.5

Application of Insights for the Local Church

Some may cry doom and gloom, but not everything about millennials and their views about work is bad. In fact, it would behoove those of the boomer generation to do some serious soul searching and see if some of their views don’t need readjusting.

Having a solid work ethic and a commitment to the organization can be a good thing, but it can also come close to idolatry. When the demands of work wreck your health, your marriage, and your relationship with your children, is God really honoring that kind of commitment?

You may answer, “I have bills to pay and a mortgage. I can’t quit this job.” I would answer with the words of Jesus:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? (Matthew 6:25, 26).

Millennials have grown up with structure and supervision and with parents who were role models. They are looking for leaders with honesty and integrity. It’s not that they don’t want to be leaders themselves; they’d just like some great role models first. They are begging for mentors, for someone older and wiser to invest in them and share life with them. Isn’t that the essence of discipleship?

Desiring collaboration rather than competition sounds a lot like Paul’s understanding of the church being one body. The body, in order to function optimally, must have all the parts cooperate. If the different members see themselves in competition with one another, the body won’t be able to function at all.

The desire for work-life balance means that millennials understand the importance of factors besides financial gain. There are family obligations, community duties, and spiritual priorities. By settling for less on the job, they are able to better attend to these issues.

One millennial put it this way: “When I looked for a job, one of the most important criteria for me was that I would have to have a meaningful life outside my work. Life is just too short and uncertain to spend too many days doing nothing but work, eat, and sleep.”6

In every venue, millennials place experiencing community high on their priority list. They want to be friends with their coworkers and love being given team projects. While they are the social media generation and love Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, even they will admit there is no substitute for face-to-face encounters. What the millennials call “community” the Bible calls “fellowship.”

Steve Jobs said, “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”7

His advice almost echoes the Scripture’s command: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23, 24).

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1Mark Scott, “Shove That Job—I’ll Take It,” Sermon Central, September 2005; accessed at www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/shove-that-job–ill-take-it-mark-scott-sermon-on-workplace-evangelism-83376.asp?Page=1.

2Rob Asghar, “What Millennials Want in the Workplace (And Why You Should Start Giving It to Them)” Forbes, January 13, 2014; accessed at www.forbes.com/sites/robasghar/2014/01/13/what-millennials-want-in-the-workplace-and-why-you-should-start-giving-it-to-them/.

3Chris Pummer, “Millennials’ Workplace Pushback,” USA Today, January 21, 2014; accessed at www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2014/01/21/millennials-workplace-pushback/4664465/.

4Gina Belli, “What Millennials Can Teach Other Generations About Work-Life Balance,” Pay Scale, February 17, 2015; accessed at www.payscale.com/career-news/2015/02/what-millennials-can-teach-other-generations-about-work-life-balance.

5Daniel Haack, “6 Generational Traits Millennials Can Work on to Stop Perception Problems,” Adweek, May 25, 2015; accessed at www.adweek.com/news/advertising-branding/6-generational-traits-millennials-need-work-stop-perception-problems-164961.

6Thom S. Rainer and Jess W. Rainer, The Millennials: Connecting to America’s Largest Generation (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2011).

7Brainy Quote; accessed at www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/great_work.html#8scGeBzUJz39og8Q.99.

Gary Zustiak serves as head of the psychology and counseling department at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri. He is author of The Next Generation: Understanding and Meeting the Needs of Generation X and the Millennial Generation.

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