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Tom Rademacher Resized 5

Boomers and Millennials: A Look at Their Different Views of Work

Just the other day, I was relating to someone much younger than myself that I was retired after more than 30 years in the newspaper business, describing it as “the first and only full-time job I ever held.” Later that same afternoon, I winced to wonder whether that young man had detected any braggadocio in my tone or manner. I hadn’t meant to lord the fact over him but, considering that he’s a millennial on the prowl, he might have taken it as a thump on the chest.

In case you haven’t noticed, gone are the days when you hang in there at one company for your entire career. And that’s especially true for millennials, relatively younger adults born between the 1980s and around the year 2000.

As the largest generation in today’s workforce, millennials now embody a term known as “job hoppers.” And no wonder: A 2012 study found that the median tenure for a millennial employee was just two years, compared to seven years for a baby boomer. A second survey a year later found that 30 percent of companies lose 15 percent or more of their millennial workers within just one year.

As the father of three young men who may be on track to join that population of job hoppers, I’m acutely aware of how – with exceptions, naturally – today’s young workforce isn’t exactly bracing for a far-off moment defined by receiving a wristwatch inscribed with “CONGRATULATIONS ON 40 YEARS.” For one thing, millennials tend to rely on their phones for the time – not Timexes. And for another, their occupational futures are likely to be defined by a series of circuitous stepping stones.

I raise the point because I think those of us who are in a position to serve millennials as mentors and sources of wisdom should be sensitive to this changing culture – and slow to criticize it. That’s a hallmark of the Encore movement – to work alongside millennials and seek ways to collaborate with them in order to raise a bar committed to the common good.

I sometimes find myself looking down my nose on Generation Y – the millennial cohort -- figuring they’re all too busy on their phones and tablets to focus on a job with both purpose and permanence. The greater truth, when I take the time to process it, is linked, in my opinion, to a trio of elements. One, colleges are behind in figuring out how to adequately train some graduates for the real world. Part of that is tied, again in my opinion, to a world where technology and the jobs they’re creating are outpacing classroom strategies.

Another possibility is that millennials aren’t so quick as we older Americans to embrace a job and not let go. They’re more discerning, more selective, and not as willing to settle as some of us were.

Face it: We all know older workers, who, when asked to qualify what we do for a living, have answered with a sigh and the sad response, “It’s a job.”

If we’re all going to move forward, we need to listen more than we speak and understand that even those of us 50 and 60 and older are still capable of learning. In this case, we need to absorb in a non-judgmental way all the elements that continue to define in a very evolving way the work force stepping up to take our place.

I used to think that nailing down a great job was tied to “who you know” and “turning corners.” Now – and I believe millennials might agree -- it’s more closely tied to being deliberate in response to your dreams and seeking something that satisfies intrinsically.

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