Open Thread Wednesday

The Harvard Business Review recently ran a provocative blog post called “Boomers, Stop Yelling at Gen Y to Get Off Your Lawn.” In it, Grant McCracken—not a Millennial himself—posits that older employers and colleagues have been misreading their younger colleagues, who conceive of themselves differently:

The young are different than you and me. They have more selves. According to a recent European study, in fact, Millennials have a “multifaceted sense of their own identity.”

“They change completely their attitude during the day, during the night, during the weekend,” says Alessandro Bigi, one of the coauthors of the study. “It is not like my generation, where I have my professor work and then I go home and have my professor life.” Millennials evidence what Larissa Faw calls “multi-careerism,” holding several jobs at once. She calls them “hustlers” working “angles” in search of their “best bet.”

This multiplicity comes from economic necessity. Having several selves make it easier to make a living. But multiplicity is also driven by creativity. Several selves make you more expressive, give you more opportunities to participate in contemporary culture. For pragmatic reasons or playful ones, Millennials have been adding on.

This comes as news to Boomers, who are inclined to take Millennials at their face. When they show up for work in a business suit, we assume we’re looking at the whole person. But many Millennials are faking it.

So here’s a few questions:

  • Is this an accurate assessment of how Boomers and Millennials (not to mention Gen X) act in the workplace? And if so, how can a leader, manager, workplace, or worker help foster inter-generational understanding and collegiality across these sorts of barriers?
  • Have you seen this work badly? Have you seen it work well?
  • Is one of these ways of working and conducting organizational life more conducive to human flourishing?
  • Is one of them closer to reflecting a Christian concept of the person?

Leave your comments below!

  • Karis

    I work in a high performing secular nonprofit in which this is true, and it is one of our key strengths. More than half of the staff of 37 are under 30, and their creativity and voice is heard and implemented all the time in our work. We would not be the organization that we are (incidentally serving generally older folks in the philanthropy space) if not for these millenial staff. One of the keys to this working is a genuinely humble and insightful founder and president (who is in his early 40s) who combines the traits of being a strong leader and yet someone who truly listens and takes every idea on its merits. There is a culture of challenging each other, hearing different voices, appreciating the differences, and working together to move forward. I read this HBR article and see/experience everyday how much opportunity there is when these differences are well harnessed for a mission.

  • Ray

    In some ways, this is a long standing issue for almost all young professional people who are still developing–they simply have not fully integrated their life purpose with their life practices and so they look professional and act capably for the most part at work, but at night they revert to the carefree post-college person who often acts irresponsibly and with risk. It takes time to discover an integrating life purpose, a set of beliefs that transcend all parts of life, and a self awareness of how to live within a community and not as someone whose individualistic focus remains dominant. This is too short a space to unpack this, but the findings of several recent studies on emerging adults in the 22-30 year range reveal that they are far more often unrooted, have walked away from childhood religious commitments, and have adopted a cultural worldview that is both highly individualistic and highly dualistic. Protagoras and Plato remain dominant. Even as Alexis deTocqueville discovered that the great asset of this unprecedented democracy was its small groups formed for doing and learning together, churches most especially, he also warned of an individualistic yearning as well that threatened to tear the fabric apart. As Robert Bellah, et al, (Habits of the Heart) and Robert Putnam (Bowling Alone) discovered 15 years apart, the America of today has far more realized the dire warning than the vast potential. American religion has become personally winsome but culturally irrelevant as someone observed. The canary in the sociological coal mine is our youth. The solution lies with the generation of leaders who should be growing leaders behind them AND helping to shape the culture in which they live and grow. William Wilberforce did both, but he recognized the transformation of culture lay at the heart of all he and his colleagues sought to change. If he was to discharge his responsibilities to the next generation, he knew he must mentor those coming next in Parliament such as he did with young Thomas Buxton who led the fight to end slavery. But the reshaping of English “manners and morals,” his second great object alongside ending slavery, had to be accomplished as the climate in which abolition was possible. In short, the best leaders do two things no one else can–grow the leaders behind them and shape the culture. One is not effective without the other and in the West today, the latter is a matter of urgency.

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