Millennials Want a Sense of Purpose at Work

Tanya Pinto
Millennials Want a Sense of Purpose at Work

More than ever before, Millennials today want a career that offers them a sense of purpose. Simply put, younger employees are no longer solely attracted by lucrative pay. They want to have a meaningful and fulfilling job, albeit with competitive pay. According to a Bloomberg publication, Millennials want two things in their career: a sense of purpose and the ability to innovate.

This fact is strongly backed by scientific studies conducted on the subject. Renowned business management specialist Daniel Pink explains this lucidly. He presents a new, revamped version of traditional motivation theory. He believes that a person’s motivation to complete a certain task is driven by three kinds of triggers: 

  • the biological drive to survive
  • external stimuli of reward or punishment
  • the satisfaction that comes with performing the task itself

The third drive is the crux of Pink’s theory. Intrinsic motivation – the satisfaction you receive from completing tasks you actually find interesting or enjoyable – is by far the most important.

Meaning trumps money:

A bigger salary alone cannot convince Millennials to perform to the best of their potential. This is proven by the fact that some of today’s most important online resources – from Wikipedia to Linux – are open-source systems. These are enriched by people around the world who voluntarily offer their expertise. No one gets paid to write for Wikipedia, yet it is one of the world’s leading encyclopedias; available in scores of languages. This goes to show that younger employees cannot be pegged down by financial incentives alone. However – it must be clearly understood that this does not undermine the importance of a competitive salary. Once a Millennial is offered a job with an adequate salary, the only way to keep them engaged for long is to cultivate a purposeful work environment.

Opportunity to make a difference:

According to David Smith, a senior managing partner at Accenture Strategy, “New grads are now ‘digital natives’ who are used to forging their own path. They want to have a direct impact right away, on companies and customers, and they’re afraid a big employer won’t let them do that.” This is a concise explanation of the fact that Millennials want high-impact jobs where they can witness their work making a difference to the organisation. This proves to be more rewarding than a fat paycheck. Smith elaborates about Millennials; “These employees are saying, ‘I’m not doing enough, and I’m not challenged enough, because I’m not doing everything I know how to do.’”

underemployment

Source: Accenture Strategy 2016 U.S. College Graduate Employment Study

It comes as no surprise that in Accenture’s 2016 survey, 51% of 2015 graduates believed they were “underemployed.” They feel that their jobs do not do justice to the extensive skills gathered over four rigorous years of studying for a degree. The Accenture report states that this is because Millennials want challenging and interesting work – but companies fail to offer them the opportunity. This explains why many talented graduates are willing to choose more meaningful roles within smaller companies, even startups, instead of being an invisible employee at a large, prestigious firm. 

In the 1980s, professors Edward Deci and Richard Ryan from the University of Rochester listed six main reasons which motivate people to work: play, purpose, potential, emotional pressure, economic pressure, and inertia. Most importantly, research has suggested that the first three motives help to improve performance, while the latter three decreased productivity. This could be effectively used to heighten employee motivation at the workplace, by offering employees the opportunity to play with ideas, feel a strong sense of purpose and attain the best of their potential. 

If a workplace needs to urgently adapt to accommodate Millennials, how can this be realistically be achieved? 

Using better work culture and engagement to motivate Millennials

Millennials are looking beyond the superficial glamour of big names or remuneration, and companies should adapt to this trend. The best way to improve employee motivation would be to revamp the existent working culture, making way for the new needs of younger employees. The Deloitte Human Capital Trends 2016 precisely explains these terms. Culture means the way in which things function in a company, whereas engagement is the way in which employees feel about how things function in their company. Work culture and employee engagement go hand-in-hand, and are crucial to transforming a company into a more Millennial-friendly one. 

The starting point to offering Millennials a sense of meaning and purpose at the workplace, would be to alter a company’s working culture. This can be achieved by introducing a tangible, data backed strategy, which we explain in our next post. The key takeaway to grasp is that it takes more than just economic rewards to attract and retain young, talented and ambitious Millennials. 

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