I have a future son-in-law who is a Millennial. He interned for me for a bit and he wants to be a writer. He's a smart guy, and I won't reveal any personal details about him other than the obvious: He's a Millennial. He's so squarely in that demographic that he could be on the poster, not just because of his age but also because of his attitude and his views.
It's taught me quite a bit about what's really motivating Millennials in the workplace. They see work differently, and that's OK. Many Millennials already run companies or work for themselves, and they have figured out a few things about business and how to succeed that some of us have resisted, downplayed, misunderstood, or called out as totally wrong.
For starters, they don't view "work" in the same way as non-Millennials (like me). It's more than just a work-life integration problem. Work has flowed into life. It has co-mingled. They need to get a room. While tech is so pervasive and access is so easy these days, most of us know that work is...work. We see work as defined by a place, a time, an org chart, a paycheck, and a boss. It's ingrained in us.
For younger people, though, it can be hard to say when work ends and the fun begins. Or maybe the "fun" is work. Or work and fun mean the exact same thing. Work definitely leads to a paycheck, right? Maybe not? Is it "work" when your colleague meets you at the gym to play squash? Is it "work" when you sit at your desk clicking through Reddit links and making comments about the new Star Wars movie?
Work doesn't have a time-frame for most Millennials, either. If you look at the logs that Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh posts on Evernote, which I discovered through this story on Zappos culture, he meets with people all day and all evening. Could we call that work? If we say you need to take a break from "work," what does that even mean? Hsieh lives in a trailer park in Las Vegas and wears sandals all day--how is that work? To those who just stepped into the "workplace" from college--a place where you are consumed with studying every hour of the day--there is barely a difference. That hands-off professor just became your hands-off boss. To Millennials, you are always you and that doesn't change because you are at a desk or the boss is there.
To non-Millennials, work is almost always completely separate, at least by definition. I'm in this group. I was raised to believe that work means work. If I pick up my phone at the dinner table and respond to an email, that's work. If I'm at the gym, that's not work. What I'm starting to understand is that, to Millennials in business, work and life are basically the same. You're always working and you've always living life. One way I need to change is that, maybe going to the gym with a colleague is actually work.
In some ways, this new definition of work is incredibly dangerous and in some ways it shows a ton of character and integrity. Let me explain what I mean by that.
It's dangerous when you can't even hold a conversation with someone because you are constantly checking email and posting about your company on social media. That's not work-life integration; that's addiction. That's work obsession. It's also dangerous when your friends and family never see you because you have not been able to separate what you do for a living from what you do in life. I haven't even mentioned how employees who never stop working are more likely to get sick, and their hourly wage is probably somewhere around what you can make at Culver's.
It's a good thing, though, when you are that dedicated to a job. In many ways, it shows integrity when you are so committed to a project that you are willing to check email at 10 p.m. and then bounce out of bed and check it again at 6 a.m. Maybe you then go for a run and read the paper at Starbucks to take a break. When "work" isn't that pressing, you take some downtime. Great! Being responsive is a good thing and shows a good work ethic.
Here's the difference, though. Millennials are starting to define "work" as tasks. It's not a period of time, and it's not based on where you are or who you are with. It is not based on what your boss says or even the fact that you are part of the marketing department. Heck, it's not even based on your role at a company--whether you are a programmer, a designer, or the social media manager. It is based purely on tasks.
By that definition, you can switch tasks to help out the social media guy. You can pick up the slack in marketing. You can be chatting with your spouse at the mall and decide to complete a task while he or she goes shopping. You can work for an hour on a vacation in Bermuda. More importantly, you can create a clear divide between "now I am working" on a task and "now I am just living life" and getting some downtime. You have not integrated as much as you have just redefined work as completing tasks.