Another Stereotype Hits the Dust

Working with Age Brilliantly and teaching the Psychology of Aging, I have the opportunity almost weekly to see current data destroy a stereotype. This week, I read one that affects the workplace – an increasingly important part of this industry  — as people plan to keep working in current jobs or new (full-time, part-time or volunteer) ones into their 70s+.

Harvard Business Review (February20, 2018) reported on a study conducted by Adam Grant and members of the Facebook to discover basic motivators for people at work. Focusing on three big “buckets”: career, community and cause, they found that Millennials, GenXers and Baby Bookers had the same core-values – and in the same order.  In other words, Millennials “want essentially the same things as the rest of us.”

What surprised the authors was that “contrary to the belief Millennials are more concerned with meaning and purpose”, there were virtually no differences among age groups. They actually found tiny differences: Millennials cared slightly less about cause, and slightly more about career than “older” people. In fact, adults 55 and over were the only group at Facebook who cared significantly more about cause than career and community.

For those of us focused on how our sense of purpose and passion changes as we age, all of this makes sense. Most prior studies reporting contrary data on Millennials, did so years ago, when they were in their late teens and early twenties. At that time, they were in school, lived in parents’ basements, and  had fewer obligations making it easier to focus on the bigger social issue. Today, they enter their thirties, more often buying apartments and houses, and getting married. Not unexpectedly with greater financial and social responsibilities, comes a shift in motivators.   Similarly, as older adults start shedding some of their responsibilities (e.g., kids through college, mortgages paid down further, sometimes completely, they can focus on the bigger picture.

So the stereotype of generational differences needs to be dropped; the more accurate approach is to understand the life-stages of people and their priorities. As the authors conclude (and we concur), when it comes to an ideal job, most of us are looking for a career, in which we’re hoping to find our what, who, and why.

What are your thoughts? Share them!

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