Why are millennials ‘difficult’ to motivate to work into an organization and why does it seem that there’s a big gap between them and the ‘older generations’ leading to friction. And finally, what can be a solution to overcome this gap? A little while ago, I found myself in a training given by a respected sports psychologist, making the link from top sports towards entrepreneurship. Not so long into the ‘lecture’, a questions pops up, which triggered a short, but spicy conversation. ‘How do you get those millennials motivated to get to work and get the job done?’ Another participant of the course added his two cents to the question, saying that companies have a problem because of those millennials don’t want to work. He wanted to start a new business (after selling one), but he was reluctant to do so, because people nowadays can’t be relied on any more. Unfortunately enough, the discussion was ended before really going into the depth and figuring this one out. So I decided to give this matter some thought.

Who are we?

The whole ‘millennial’ thing reminded me of a talk I had with a personal friend of mine, almost one year ago. We are both born in the eighties, so we are to be considered millennials. I still hear the disappointment in his voice, when he questioned the value that our generation had brought to the world. My friend said: “If you look at the generations before our parents, they fought in the  wars, they achieved freedom. Our parents were the ones who worked hard and rebuild economy. They worked their ass of and they created value by doing so.” He continued:  “And then you have us, what do we achieve? Our generation is one where no value is added. Look at the youngsters nowadays, they make apps, create new technologies, all to make our lives so much easier. They really make an impact.” His words have got me thinking. People mostly consider value as something to be added towards something else. The generations before us added new inventions, especially in time of war, technology seems to boom. In a post-war time, the first things to do are to clean up and rebuilt. But what after that? There’s no need for big inventions, no pressure from the outside, just a moment to relax and enjoy the peace. Going to a highly structured school, from 3 years on, until 21 years, only to discover that a work environment is actually a school environment where grades are transformed into money. That is a hard blow to take. You see these ‘elderly’ people, worn, exhausted, desperately surviving and holding on to the time comes that will liberate them from work, finally getting the chance to enjoy life. At least, what’s left of it. What if, added value is something that is not creating ‘more’ but ‘less’ instead? What if the millennials are a generation with a ‘destructive’ power, but now no longer in the sense of physical war, but in the sense of mental war? The structures that have been (re)built, have existed for quit a while. They have been set up for executing a plan, using man power as an energy source. Managers popping up everywhere and leading people into a role, a function as part of the machinery that an organisation is. What if we all started to realize how these structures actually kill creativity, suck out the energy of people and its environment for achieving well fare, more money and more things? What if the millennials are to realize that these structures are not suited for their personal needs and feel like prison walls instead? But why do millennials stick with it and hop from one work to another, seemingly not to care about the company? And why does the elderly generation not feel this? Let’s go back into time to find some answers. Parents and people before the millennials experienced different times. You and I both know that the environment can have an impact on how you see the world and thus how you act in it. The ‘elder generation’ knew difficult times where they weren’t sure were the next money would come from. They were happy to find work that would bring in the necessary money. They worked hard to get us, millennials, into college, and to pay the bills that come along with a life style that involves a house, a car (maybe two) and other stuff that gives security and a certain level of comfort. An this is where there’ a first big gap between the two worlds. Millennials have been brought up, not to know poverty. Those deep existential needs are no longer in our minds, instead they are replaced with stuff coming to us in a fairly easy way. Millennials are more depending on the physical objects that give (or at least that’s what the media says) a certain degree of comfort. And that’s why millennials need money for. But if there’s no money coming in, than such lifestyle is out of the question, and that’s unthinkable. In this society, it is not difficult to earn money. No matter what the media says, you can always find work and earn money. If you need to lower your standards of work itself, then it’s a small sacrifice in order to maintain the level of comfort that you know, which allows you to buy the newest phone, a nice car, house, etc. Money of course goes fast, and this creates a never ending circle of having to work. So in itself, the situation hasn’t changed that much between millennials and the generations before. Money is still something that has to be obtained in order to live. The difference now is that work is work for the millennials, a way to obtain money and that money can come from anywhere. The previous generations weren’t that ‘lucky’ and were happy to have work and thus more prone to stick with it. Loyalty as a consequence of circumstances forced upon them. What’s the downside of this all? Millennials don’t go deep enough to figure out some crucial stuff about themselves. Lost in chasing objects, fired up by clever marketeers. Millennials are prone to fall victim to buy stuff that doesn’t bring satisfaction for long. Same goes for work. Work as known, in a strict setting or in a looser setting, doesn’t bring much joy or happiness when it’s only purpose is to pay the bills. How can satisfaction be found if you search in the wrong area? And this leads us to the next topic, the reason ‘why’ millennials are also called the ‘Y’ generation.

Why doesn’t do anything…

It’s true that millennials ask a lot of questions about “why” something happens or needs to be done. Take school for example. Why should anything be learned by heart, if Google knows the answer faster (About 139.000.000 results in 0,46 seconds – just googled it) then you can come up with yourself? In this sense, the Y-generation is of course asking some brutal questions that might be confronting for the ones involved. Imagine you have a successful organisation, that does the things the way it’s done, because this structure has proven to be good throughout time. When you get a question why making an invoice is so difficult and complicated, then you might take this personal as your experience is at stake here. What’s the reaction here from the managers involved or the elderly generations? “Aah millennials are looking for ownership, a sense of purpose so that they will be happy to do something.” But unfortunately, it is not that easy. Imagine you want a dog, somebody hears it and gives you his dog because his circumstances do not allow him to keep the dog any more. Would you accept it? What if you had no choice and the dog was forced upon you? ‘Ownership’ forced upon you… Would you like it? Many management books advise ‘leaders’ to give people ownership in their work. Let them do the work in the way so that ‘they’ have the responsibility over it. But is that the responsibility ‘they’ are looking for which will transform them into that loyal employee or self-steering person that you want them to be? Finding a dog that suits you, takes time and some kind of self-knowledge. Maybe a millennial is better of with a puppy instead of a grown up dog? On the other hand, asking ‘why’ has its implications as well. Asking the question and not bothering to answer it, but looking for a new job (that is just around the corner waiting for you) won’t add anything to the solution. Asking the question, finding an answer and walking away is no solution either. When you have find an answer to the why-question, it is the responsibility of everyone involved to deal with it and work towards the solution. You can’t give ownership to someone without having one’s back. If someone wants to change something, make sure that he or she has the goods or the right tools to make that change possible.

Conclusion:

Every generation has its added value. Sometimes that value is to ask questions that break down existing structures that are no longer suitable. A millennial that has found him or herself is the millennial that you ‘love’. This person has the capacity to find out why something works or doesn’t. This person has learned that work is no longer a way of getting by and obtaining some physical objects. It’s a way of contributing to the people around you that makes it worth while. The physical things that come along with it, are the icing on the cake and are no longer the objects that have to provide the sense of purpose in the first place. A millennial that hasn’t found him or herself is the millennial that you ‘hate’. There a huge potential that goes unused, you see it, but they don’t see it themselves. A waste of time. These persons are the ones that are emotionally detached from the organisation that you feel so connected to. How can you bridge that gap? For the millennials amongst us: Don’t stop asking the ‘Why’-questions. It breaks down artificial barriers that are no longer needed or are replaced by modern technologies. But don’t stop there. Ask yourself the why-question and find out what the answer is for yourself. You cannot help or be helped when you don’t know what you are looking for yourself. It’s not somebody else’s job to figure out what you want and need. Once you do know, take action. It will lift you up and transform your life and all the ones around you. For the elderly people amongst us, not knowing how to handle these highly fluctuating people belonging to the Y-generation: You have experience how it is to fight for a cause, to make a plan and stick with it. You know how crucial it is to observe, make choices upon the information that you have and not have. You know how difficult it is when you are alone and when nobody has your back. Support the people that are trying to find themselves being lost in a world that is too tight wrapped around them. Help them to take it one step further to find an answer and to take action upon it. Back them up with your knowledge, your tools and the circumstances they need. It will bring a fresh breeze into your company and they will be the ones that adapt your business to the new world that is already taking shape out there. And to both of you.. Communicate open and transparent. Don’t have any hidden agenda’s, say how you feel honest and with an open mind towards the other. Communication is what brought us so far and will always take us one level further. Good luck to all.