Millennials aren’t lazy, we just care more about finding meaning from a career

We expect more than just a paycheck – we want a purpose too


Millennials, a term thrust upon us like an unwanted high school nickname by older humans who gawp at us like we’re extra-terrestrial beings. Also known as Generation Y, the term refers to those currently aged between 20-35, born between 1980 and 1994. If you’re a millennial, it’s possible you’ve been accused by baby boomers and whoever else of being a lazy, narcissistic, Lena Dunham-loving, cry-babies with a fat sense of entitlement.

But millennials are also becoming quite a big bloody deal nowadays – what with us projected to make up half the global workforce by 2050. So it’s high time we set the record straight.

Are we a lazy generation? No, we’re actually just as hardworking as our parent’s generation, which is good news because we’re probably never going to be old enough to retire. If there is actually a difference in our attitude towards work, it is this: unlike previous generations, millennials care less about making money and more about finding meaning from their careers.

According to recent Gallup report entitled ‘How Millennials Want to Work And Live’, up to 55 per cent of millennials “are not engaged at work” with 16 per cent being “actively disengaged.” While boredom in the workplace is nothing new, these statistics are important because, as the report concludes, for millennials “work must have meaning”, they “want to work for organisations with a mission and purpose.”

So it’s not just that we’re bored at work, we’re bored because we expect more than just a paycheck – we want a purpose too.

Of course, making generalisations about an entire generation is always problematic. Millennials are not a homogenous bunch and for a lot of young people embarking upon a career, money is still supremely important. To be sure, being able to worry about whether your job will fulfil you for eight hours a day is a luxury only the privileged can afford.

With that said, if we compare millennial attitudes towards work with those of earlier generations we can observe a change in attitude. Our grandparent’s generation were shaped by the experience of World War 2 which instilled in them an obsession with economic security – something they passed on to their children. The next generation, known as the Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and1964) were encouraged to pursue strong practical careers and for the most part, they were rewarded for all their hard work, enjoying decades of of economic prosperity. The children of the Boomers, the Millennials, have been brought up with this same sense of boundless optimism: we’ve been taught to ‘follow our passions’, that we can be or do anything we want, and that we shouldn’t settle for anything less than work that we love. This set the bar of expectation for our careers pretty damn high, which is why it’s no surprise that we’re a little disappointed when the reality of work doesn’t meet our expectations. So if it seems like we millennials feel entitled, it’s probably because in some sense, we are.

Will the disenfranchised millennial please stand up

However there might be also be other reasons why lots of young people can’t seem to shake that nagging sense that work should play a more satisfying role in their lives. The Gallup report also found that millennials are much less likely to be religious and/or identify with any of the major political parties. This loosening of ties to traditional institutions may go some way to explaining why we feel our jobs should be something we can throw our whole lives into.

Also, if things weren’t hard enough already, millennials are the first generation that can’t help but be acutely aware of how everyone else is doing. If you’ve spent the last month producing 200 PowerPoint slides on that no one is ever going to read, it might be tempting to believe the grass is always greener wherever your smug friends on Facebook happen to be. The truth is your smug friends on Facebook are probably just as frustrated and bored at work as you are.

So perhaps as a generation, we have set ourselves up for disappointment by expecting to find jobs that will fulfil us, jobs that make us feel like we’re working to live rather than living to work. But then again, is it really too much to ask for?