Millennials Want Inspiration, Not Just a Paycheck

Key Takeaway:

  • We read a lot about Gen Y these days, as they drive trends in nearly every industry.

  • Their focus on work/life balance is changing the way we look at careers, especially the long-term careers of previous generations.

  • It’s more than just a paycheck for Gen Y —and here’s why.


We read a lot these days about the priorities of the Gen Y generation, and we’d do well to pay attention. (Do you remember my proclamation to never use the word “millennials” again?) The White House reports that Gen Y now represent over one-third of the U.S. population, making them the largest demographic group. They make up the majority of our current workforce, and have some significantly different attitudes and expectations from generations who came before.

The Great Recession hit just as the Gen Y were becoming adults. This along with the fact that they’ve been supported by unprecedented access thanks to technology, has created in Gen Y very high expectations for the workplace.

They are the first generation to have grown up with Internet access, they’re more educated than the Baby Boomers (61% have been to college as opposed to 46% of the previous generation), and they are more ethnically diverse.

While work is still important, this generation is primarily focused on work/life balance. They value time with family and friends, tending to prefer locations close to them. Gen Y report having close relationships with family, with about half saying that it’s important to them to live near their parents compared with 29% of baby boomers. The importance of social connection spills over into the communities where they live, and Gen Y are concerned with doing work that is good for their community, whether through involvement with philanthropic causes or by volunteering.

Gen Y expect to enjoy the time they spend at the office and look for a workplace that is comfortable, convenient, and friendly. At work, they look for amenities that make the office enjoyable, and by adding them employers can boost job satisfaction, productivity, and retention.

They’ve also lived through the craziest economic meltdown on decades and I feel we’ve all come to the reality —whether part of Gen Y or not— that nothing is permanent, including our career. There was a time when we would choose our career path, stick to it, and if you didn’t see success in that path, it was a failure. Today, with the flip of a switch, our careers can take turns we never imagined, and Gen Y embraces this.

In short, if you’re from the Gen Y generation, a sense of purpose and inspiration on the job is nearly as essential as a paycheck. This may be because the lines are blurring between work and life. You may not think of yourself as having separate identities tied to work and home. You may be able to work remotely some of the time, and you want to be able to apply your creativity and interest in your work as well as private life.

Finding passion and inspiration in the workplace is ideal, but sometimes it’s not practical or possible. Sometimes you have to hold on to a job that isn’t feeding your passion, and in that case you can look for creative outlets in the community. Just remember, just because you are where you are doesn’t mean you’re staying there forever.

Increasingly, the workplace is looking for ways to encourage employees to feel inspired. One important factor is the way that knowledge is shared in a company. Ensuring that everyone in an organization is able to get information that they need without having to ask someone for it is one way to “declutter” the workflow and allow work to move forward while the iron is hot.

Ideally, information should be accessible to anyone in the organization through a single, universal search. The sort of transparency this enables is key to building a shared sense of mission and purpose in the company, which in turn enhances motivation and engagement.  An inspiring concept.

We can learn a lot from Gen Y, and their approach to their careers tells us that the “cog in the wheel” approach to our careers simply doesn’t work anymore. (That’s why there are robots replacing “cog in the wheel” type jobs.) Leadership will need to continue to embrace these changes or good talent will go elsewhere.