For a Thousand Generations: Why Millennials Prepare for the Future Differently

Marissa Black | Staff Writer

When I think of the future and of post-graduation plans, I consider what I want my impact to be. I focus on finding a job where I get to do what I love and love what I do. I believe many millennials view post-grad life this way—it’s a mentality that says to identify what you love and figure out how to get paid for it.

But then I consider my baby boomer parents and how they prepared for their futures in such a different way. My dad found a job in a field he loved right out of college, and he has worked for the same company since then. As a millennial, I hesitate at the thought of remaining with one company for so long. I desire to be constantly moving and trying different things.

This led me to wonder about why the differences between generations has such an impact on how we plan for our futures, what it takes to satisfy us and how we view the basic trajectory of our lives.

Who are the boomers and the millennials?

Millennials, according to the United States Census Bureau, are Americans born between the years of 1982 and 2000, meaning they are roughly between the ages of 15 and 34. According to a census taken by the bureau in June of 2015, millennials currently represent over 25 percent of the United States’ population and are ethnically more diverse than any generation before them. They have passed the baby boomers (those born between mid-1946 and mid-1964) in total numbers, with over 83 million millennials.

So while we know that there are more millennials, and that we are generally more diverse, how do we start to understand the foundational differences between ourselves and the generation that raised many of us—the baby boomers?

Dr. Alan Oda, a psychology professor at Azusa Pacific, suggests that a difference in educational culture is one of several foundational contrasts between millennials and boomers. Millennials today are required to earn a college degree in order to achieve some of the same positions and jobs that boomers could hold with only a high school diploma. The pressure to attain a college degree is much higher than in the boomer days, but education is also more expensive, the economy makes it harder to find a job and students still receive the same entry-level positions that their boomer parents could get right out of high school.

Work Ethic

When millennials do find jobs, the loyalty and relationship between employees and corporations are much different, according to Oda. Millennial employees are less likely to remain with one company for several years because they feel the need to move up in the chain. Companies realize this lack of loyalty, so they in return invest less energy and effort into millennials because they know this younger generation doesn’t plan to stay for long.

“If [a millennial is] at a company for more than a few years, you’re viewed as having settled,” Oda said. “So you’re not ambitious, you’re not looking at the next job. So both sides don’t have the same loyalty they used to have.”

While millennials tend toward short-term jobs and constant re-positioning, boomers can be quite the opposite. According to Bryan Lansing, a speaker and consultant at Bridgeworks, an organization that specializes in reaching different generations in the workplace, baby boomers view their time in the workforce as something to commit to long-term and spend a large amount of their time and energy on.

“Boomers [were] competing against 80 million in their cohort and began to do things to set themselves apart,” Lansing said. “They’d do things like show up five minutes before the boss got there, stay until five minutes [after] the boss left, work long, long hard hours, stay late at night, working weekends, basically doing whatever the boss asked.”

Lansing says it all comes down to a difference in work ethic. For a boomer, he says, work ethic means late nights and long hours. It means a loyalty and commitment to the job and to going above and beyond what those in charge require of you.

But for millennials, work ethic looks quite different. We grew up around the launch of the Internet in the early ’90s, so our office work translates itself differently. Lansing emphasizes that while our hours sitting at a desk may not be very long, we are still likely being productive around the clock. We answer emails at the beach, take important phone calls at our homes and, according to Lansing, can generally get “twice as much done in half the amount of time.”

Oda suggests that millennials might be onto something, as we bring our work outside of the office. Millennials treat their careers, family and religion in a more holistic manner, while the boomer generation tends to be more compartmentalized, not allowing the different sections of life to touch.

“One thing that I think is different with your generation is that your job is not going to be the center of who you are…A job is part of your life, not what defines you,” Oda said.

Raised by Boomers

Finally, millennials’ perspectives have been shaped by the fact that many were raised with boomers as parents. Lansing says that many millennials were told by their boomer parents that they could be anything and do anything. We were told we were invincible, unable to fail.

This led to a generation of millennials that might perhaps be coddled but that also admirably seeks to do things that matter. Because many of us were brought up by boomers who instilled this difference-maker mantra in us, many millennials want to use their careers and their lives to change their world.

“We want to know that the work that we’re doing, eight-to-five, nine-to-five, that THAT work has an impact on the world around us, that we’re making a difference,” Lansing said. “That we’re not just clocking in, clocking out, going through a mundane routine. We want to know that we’re actually making a real life difference. Whereas the generation before usthey wanted to make a difference, but they were willing to wait. They were willing to get settled in or get established in a career and then maybe, then maybe [they] could start making a difference, whereas we want it day one.”

At a basic level, each generation functions rather differently. There are certainly differences between how my parents and I discuss post-grad and planning for the future. My more-relaxed approach to finding a job and a desire to possibly take some gap years abroad is so unlike their post-grad and married-with-a-kid life they chose in their twenties.

And yet, despite the differences between the generations and how they were shaped and formed, Lansing says we all share some common values.

“At the end of the day, every generation wants to work hard, they want to be successful, they want to do a good job. We all might look at it differently, but we want to do a good job.”

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