Emily Articulated: The Working Millennial

By Emily Erickson
Reader Columnist

With 40 percent of the current American workforce being comprised by millennials, it’s inevitable that the way in which we approach employment as a country will continue shifting in order to meet the evolving needs presented by Generation Y. And I’m here to say that the changes are far more complex than the simple addition of ping pong tables and beer on tap in the office break room.

Emily Erickson.

In 1943, Psychologist Abraham Maslow wrote an essay, “A Theory of Human Motivation,” wherein he detailed “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.” The theory contends that humans innately have five major types of need, all of which are hierarchical in nature. That is, in order to meet a more complex set of needs, one must first have their basic needs met.

In this article, I am grouping Maslow’s pyramid of needs into “bottom tier” needs; which include our human requirements for Physiological Fulfillment (think: water, food, adequate sleep, and shelter), and Safety Needs (a general feeling of being safe and secure) and “top tier” needs; including Belongingness and Love, Esteem Needs (feelings of accomplishment), and Self-Actualization (achieving one’s full, creative potential).

Maslow argued that a person cannot achieve top-tier needs without first having their bottom-tier needs fulfilled. For example, if you were to skip a day’s worth of meals, you would likely fixate on your hunger pangs and Taco Bell internet ads instead of developing strong friendships and finishing this year’s tax returns (what?).

This relates to millennials and the workplace because the new generation of workers are seeking jobs that fulfill both bottom- and top-tier needs, expecting the place in which they spend the majority of their day to do so much more than pay the rent on their converted travel van homes and keeping their fridges stocked with adequate amounts craft beer, pita chips, and avocado spread.

Millennials want jobs that provide a sense of community and belonging, that appreciate and contribute to their multifaceted talents, and that promote an opportunity for creativity as it relates to maximizing the unique potential of every person employed, rather than simply viewing them as another number on their payroll.

This expectation of an employer to meet a higher set of needs is where other generations often experience a disconnect from the new wave of millennial employees. For centuries, a person’s occupation was a means to achieving adequate food, shelter, and relative security. Maslow’s top tier needs were pursued, for most people, in the hours surrounding time card punches.

As a result of these expectations, millennials in the workforce can be perceived as entitled, demanding their workplaces to do more for them, to provide a more wholesome day to day experience. Instead of slapping on the label of “entitlement,” however, consider that the new generation of employees are simply inspiring a wave of positive change in the workplace.

Additionally, another byproduct of this shifting workforce is a redefinition of the concept of productivity. Millennials are demonstrating that a flexible schedule or working from a coffee shop can be just as effective, if not more so, than spending nine hours in a windowless cubicle (even accounting for the extra time necessary to document their coconut milk latte art on social media).

According to research relayed by Forbes contributors Ellen Kossek and Kelly Hannum, “Employees are healthier, experience less stress, and are more productive and engaged when they effectively make choices about how, where and when they work.” Employees thrive on the affordance of independence, achieving better, more efficient work/life balances.

Simply put, members of Generation Y are less afraid than previous generations of leaving jobs in which they feel unappreciated, uninspired and underused, even at the risk of temporary financial insecurity. They are optimistic and relentless in their pursuit of a more fulfilled life, and are bringing a push for positive change in the workplace with them.

Because sometimes, doing something differently is the only way to unlock the potential for something greater. So, let’s grind a few more organic coffee beans for our office French press, tap another keg and get to work! Am I right?

Emily Erickson is a freelance writer and bartender originally from Wisconsin, with a degree in sociology and an affinity for playing in the mountains.

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