I have been thinking about this economy and if it will affect the work needs of the so-called most entitled generation ever – Generation Y or the Millennial – those born in the late 70’s onwards?
Many Baby Boomers will say, “Those kids need to learn it’s tough and you don’t get a trophy just for turning up for work. No one’s there to applaud and video their every step.”
What about my generation – the Baby Boomers – will our work needs change? Millennial might say, “They destroyed the environment, let greed override ethics and are maxing out the credit, leaving Millennials to pay the tab.”
With four generations working together, we need to get beyond this tired cycle of thinking your own generation is the best and you have to fix the others because they don’t have clue. How can we understand each generation in order to blend the best of our talents?
I put this question to a Millennial engineer, Michael Keenan, whose employer, Arcelormittal Dofasco Steel, is actively addressing the generational gap. “We look at the pivotal events during the formative years of each generation,” says Michael. “Once you understand each generation’s shared geography, cultural and economic environment and the impact on their needs, it is much easier to work together because you understand why they are different.”
Dofasco is using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to frame each generation’s work behaviour. Each level of needs must be fully satisfied before you can move up to the next level. First level of needs are the physical - which means having a full stomach, for example, or being comfortable. The next stage is the need for safety – to have a job, a home, a family and shared morality with your neighbours. For Canadian-raised Millenials, the luxury of growing up in the most peaceful and affluent time in Canada means that they can move past the safety level right up to esteem needs for recognition for their work and self motivation. They can even reach self actualization which is the need for self governance and the bigger issues of society like justice or peace. Since up until the economic melt down, Millennial have not been afraid for their jobs, they have enjoyed the space to explore these higher level needs.
Hollywood movies help us to put ourselves in those first twenty years of other generations and the early life experiences which shaped the rest of their lives. When supporting actors from the World War II movie Defiance talked about how miserable it got while filming in the forests of Lithuania, you know this is Generation X and The Millennial speaking about their work. It would be tough to imagine John Wayne complaining about the hardships of his movie location. Yet, on the other hand, these young actors are far more nuanced about the deep meaning of their movie and able to probe and question.
Now imagine if you were in that forest and hungry too, with real soldiers with real guns hunting for you. Even snuggled up next to Daniel Craig, smoothing back your hair and letting you check out his bikini briefs – you may find your needs are not so much about having a house with a white marble kitchen or a job that follows your dreams or even the rules of the Geneva Convention. You are at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy and after such a trauma, you would be grateful for any darn house, a solid job and you would faithfully work for the boss without question.
Baby Boomer journalist, Tom Brockaw, called people raised during the war “The Greatest Generation” which may sound like overblown hyperbole to Generation Xers and Millennials as they look at Grandfather slumped in his armchair. But WW II is within the memory of humans living today and I meet many of them still working, running poultry, transportation, construction companies, as well as law and finance firms.
In extraordinary contrast, Canadian born Millennial had no war, no fear for their lives, for their family, for their neighbours turning on them or their country being taken by force. Since parents may be funding their lives, they have the luxury of moving way up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs past the Baby Boomers’ level of social needs, to the esteem set of needs and for some, even to self actualization. It is not a surprise then that Millennial in the workplace have smaller social distance between others and have little fear of authority or of others. It is a great place to be.
Companies can benefit if they understand this level of needs. Boomers, once they get this, tap into Millennia’s energy which is team-based and seeking to be the best.
The Millennials I meet are in the finance industry and are exciting because they do question, can hold a range of views not just black and white, pick up work to do on their own initiative and for their own career development. This Canadian generation thinks globally, questions social issues, are challenging, want a balanced life but are there when the work needs to get done by midnight. I may have a slanted view but I think calling Millenials Most Entitled Generation gives them a bum rap.
In sum, it certainly helps me to understand work behaviour by using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and to see how each generation’s context was completely different. It helps explain a great deal. I know I will be able to work together with more purpose. What do you think?