Millennial pursuits: Why their job expectations go beyond hefty pay cheques and creature comforts

By Malavika Varadan

Published: Thu 3 Jun 2021, 7:41 PM

Here’s an interesting bit of research. Over 2,000 millennials were asked how important it was to them that their work be meaningful, or have a positive impact on the world — and 90 per cent said it was important to them, 50 per cent said they would accept less money for more meaning and 68 per cent said they would work longer hours if it meant that they were trading time for meaning — and I would have answered yes to the latter options. In fact, I did.

I am a millennial born in the year 1986. My mother, born in 1950, worked as a clerk in a nationalised Indian bank. She did the same job, worked in the same position every day for 28 years. That’s 10,000 days at work without once questioning if her work was positively impacting the world, whether she was making a change in the larger scheme of things.

She just went to work, did the job assigned to her with honesty and integrity, never cheated the system and came home to her family — happy to raise two daughters on her middle class income to be thinking, independent women of the world.

“Did you ever question whether your work at the bank was meaningful, Ma?” I asked her on a call this week. “I ask because I am writing about it.”

“No,” she responded. “I paid my bills, I raised my children, this was all that mattered to me”.

I must put this question into context. A year ago, I quit a job in the entertainment industry to pursue my journey as an entrepreneur in arts education. Those are two ends of a spectrum. Apparently, I am not the only one. A friend of mine is quitting her job at a tech giant to join the education sector too. Her reason? The pursuit of meaning.

We are a strange generation, us millennials. We are the first of family to choose meaning over money, time and career growth. Respect matters to us. A larger purpose matters to us. Seeing that what we do is changing the world matters to us. And because we have the Internet, it’s hard to lie to us.

Truth is we are an HR nightmare for large corporations because once money ceases to be a deciding factor, negotiation becomes a lot harder and more abstract. In addition to salary increases and days off, we need explanations.

As someone who has jumped ship, let me be the one to tell you this: Changing the world is not an easy job either. Work:life balance is a daily struggle, and when you make meaning for a living, everything is personal.

The same study of 2,000 millennials said that the ‘happiest’ people were those who worked in industries like education and social service, where the work was instructional and creative and the company’s mission was to make others healthy and well. The least happy of the lot were those in sales and retail.

If the thought has crossed your mind this week of whether or not your work really matters, just know that you are not the only one. Here’s to a future full of artists and teachers!

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