It’s Not Just Millennials Who Value and Benefit From These 3 Workplace Characteristics
In 2015 Millennials began their ascent to being the largest generation in the workforce, surpassing Generation X and eclipsing the declining Baby Boomers. I’m always surprised when reading articles on the changing priorities of the workforce as a result of this demographic shift. Millennials are characterized as being like no other generation in reference to the aspects of work that are important to them. Some themes that repeat across articles is the importance of authenticity, meaningfulness and autonomy in the workplace.
I’m surprised by the characterization of Millennial work values as unique because much of what is written about Millennials and work resonates with me. Initially, I rationalized that this was because I was born in the latter years of Generation X, late 70’s. Therefore, I must stand in a transitional space when mindsets about work were supposedly beginning to shift. But even that justification didn’t feel quite right to me – is it only younger Generation X’ers that share similar workplace values as Millennials? I did some research to answer this question.
As early as 1973, when a random sample of U.S. adults were asked to rank the job aspects that were most important to them, more than 50% ranked work that is important and provides a feeling of accomplishment as most important. In 1982, U.S. adults ranked meaningfulness (63% ) and working independently (44.7%) as very important aspects of work. These are just two examples that show that the generational shift in what is important about work is not changing as dramatically as headlines would lead us to believe.
Another reason I am often surprised by articles on Millennials in the workplace is that much of what is written is geared towards helping managers to navigate these “new values” and less on the fact that these workplace values are good for everyone, not just Millennials. Work that is authentic, meaningful and autonomous benefits employees across generations and ultimately organizations.
Authenticity. Authenticity in the workplace is the ability of the full and complex employee to show up to work each day, without having to leave behind, or mask, key elements of who they are. The degree to which someone feels they can be authentic in the workplace is largely influenced by organizational norms – what are the work behaviors, work styles and values that are espoused and rewarded in the organization. Authenticity in the workplace is associated with better psychological wellbeing for employees.
Meaningfulness. Meaningfulness in the workplace is the alignment of work with the values of the employee. Such work allows the employee to express their values through their work. What is defined as meaningful work is different for each employee. Similar to authenticity, meaningfulness is linked to better psychological wellbeing.
Autonomy. Autonomy is self-directed work done under minimal supervision, where the employee has the ability to make important decisions about how their work is achieved. The level of autonomy in a given role is largely dictated by the nature of the role, corporate norms and the manager. Autonomous work produces better cognitive functioning, due to the added complexity of an autonomous work environment such as frequent decision making and a lack of a rigid work structure. Put differently, autonomy is good for the brain!
Workplace values commonly associated with Millennials are beneficial for everyone, especially at the level of psychological wellbeing and cognitive functioning. There is something that erodes over time for an employee who feels obligated to leave their authentic self at home in order to do work they don’t consider meaningful; especially if this takes place in a micromanaged environment. This erosion often results in disengagement and lower work productivity. If corporations are looking for a bottom line impact statement as to why these workplace factors matter, worker productivity is highly correlated with organizational revenue.
Although Millennials may have a higher self-esteem that perhaps gives them the confidence to be more vocal about what matters to them in the workplace, they are not the first generation to care about workplace characteristics such as authenticity, meaningfulness and autonomy. There is an English proverb that says, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander” – meaning what is good for one person is good for another. In the case of these workplace values, what’s good for one generation is good for another – Millennials, Generation X’ers and Baby Boomers alike.
Many of the (not so new) Millennial workplace values are a result of a multigenerational push to work in ways that resonate with the employee. Organizations and managers looking to retain top talent, will not only have to take note of these characteristics, but also make the internal changes to accommodate these priorities.]