Before I get into this Ramble I’d like to clarify something. The below theories are generic and applied in wide brush strokes to inherently complex subjects.
Discussions around macro topics such as generational differences will always disregard countless exceptions and no doubt as you read this, you will know of many. I certainly do.
For brevities sake however, I had to take a big picture view and keep the details light on! I hope you enjoy.
Maslow Was Onto Something
The idea of pursuing a life of purpose and meaning is one which has grown some serious legs in recent years. As millennials -us lot born between 1980-2000- begin to dominate the workplace, the old notions of what a ‘J-O-B’ represents, are being ushered out and replaced by a fresh new set of beliefs.
“Works work” and “work is not meant to be fun”, were both central pillars of the Baby boomers and, to a lesser extent Gen X’s thinking for over 50 years.
However, as any psychologist -or parent for that matter- will tell you, the more one gets, the more one wants. 50 years ago, kids were delighted to be given a jam sandwich for Christmas, nowadays an Xbox with only one controller is taken as some kind of punishment.
Spoilt gits aside, the concept of never being satisfied can be applied to anyone, anywhere in the world, at any time.
Let’s look at Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs to help illustrate my point.
Image: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Whilst his theory was designed to be applied to human motivations as a whole, employment plays such a significant role in our overall motivations, that it can be taken in isolation and still be a relevant analysis.
The Evolution of Employment
As recently as the 1960’s, a job was generally excepted only to provide the basic human needs of food, water and shelter. If it put bread on the table, it was good enough, regardless of the hours, duties, monotony or health implications.
Fast forward a couple of decades. With those demands met, psychological needs came into the equation. People began turning to the workplace to provide relationships and a sense of belonging. The job title, or description were yet to come into play but people wanted more than just any old job.
Then came the 1980’s and the Yuppies. As the world transitioned from an industrial economy to a information economy, it changed the employment landscape and gave rise to a new breed of worker, hungry for more.
Suddenly it was all about the pursuit of prestige and personal achievement. Flash suits, a company car and a posh title represented success and a job well done. Often, the credibility of the job was as important as the work itself.
Of course this was not the first time humans had expressed a desire to be recognized or feel a sense of accomplishment but it was the first time that it was an achievable goal for the masses.
Our Own Office Is No Longer Enough
And now we find ourselves on the cusp of the next level of Maslow’s human needs, self-actualisation.
A pay cheque, healthy relationships, company laptop and the word ‘manager’ in our title, are no longer enough to satisfy us. We’re now on the hunt for something deeper and more meaningful.
A Little Aside
A desire to seek purpose and fulfilment through work is limited not just to millennials. As Bill Burnett from Stanford University points out, baby boomers all over the world are now searching for what he calls an “encore career” to provide them with the sense of purpose that eluded them throughout their working lives.
Where was I? Ah yes, millennials have been raised on the idea that we can make of ourselves what we want. That the world is our lobster and we need only tap into our talents, to achieve amazing things.
As is hopefully quite apparent from previous Ramblings, I am firmly in this camp. In fact I live by it…literally.
The Search Is Getting Harder
I do however realize the implications this self-confidence and expectation has on our job satisfaction. It has essentially raised the bar of what we consider a ‘good job’ and made our quest for happiness in the workplace that much harder.
Think about it. Back when i-phone was still a verb, any old job was enough. How else can the clamouring for work down the carbon-monoxide-rich mines in 1960’s Britain be explained?
Nowadays, it’s a different story of course. For a company to truly appeal to many in the modern workforce it must serve a greater purpose, provide opportunities for personal growth, allow freedom of expression and imbue it’s employees with a sense of self-worth.
And rightly so in my view. We work for around 80,000 hours in our lifetime -a figure that is increasing rapidly as we live longer and save less. That’s way too much time to spend feeling unfulfilled or pretending to be someone you’re not.
Whether you agree with me or not, millions of people do and are finding it increasingly hard to achieve true happiness in their jobs.
You’re Looking In the Wrong Place
The main reason for this? You’re looking in the wrong place!
The way the modern workforce view their working life may be changing fast, but the marketplace as a whole is not.
Pioneering companies like Google, Facebook and Airbnb aside, the majority of organizations simply cannot keep pace with the rapidly evolving expectations of it’s workers.
Institutions, governments and large non-tech corporations are the biggest culprits but they're by no means alone. For now, employers who pay genuine attention to the emotional needs of their staff and put measures in place to ensure they’re addressed, are the exception, not the rule.
With this in mind, if you're conducting your search in such places, you will likely be left bitterly disappointed.
Fear not young cohorts, I am here yet again to offer a suggestion.
But first, a caveat if I may.
This suggestion will only provide value to those who:
- Feel unfulfilled in their current situation
- Firmly believe they have more to give
- Want to tailor their work around their passions and strengths
- Can tolerate a bit if risk
- Are ready to commit to making drastic changes in order to make it happen
If the above criteria apply to you and you REALLY ARE ready to make the necessary changes in order to pursue your purpose and fulfil your potential, then please read Part II of this Ramble.