Co-authored by Carol Sachowski

The Millennial Generation has a bad rap. You know the stereotypes: lazy, spoiled young adults who live with their parents. They’re only out for themselves, and they have no concept of loyalty. But are these stereotypes true? What do Millennials value? Since they’re a growing part of the workforce, employers need to set aside any preconceived notions and learn what motivates these potential employees.

Unconventional Choices: What’s The Motivation?

We recently met a Millennial woman who is just starting her career. Her education and expertise is in marketing and communications. She could have found a job in the private sector and climbed a lucrative corporate ladder, but instead, she lives with her parents and works three days a week at a low-paying non-profit job – and she loves every minute of it. And while she feels fulfilled in her work at the moment, if a more promising opportunity comes her way next week, she won’t hesitate to take it.

A life choice like that may be tough for some of us to understand. After all, when we were her age, we were in a hurry to make money, live independently, and grow up. Why doesn’t she want those things?

Elaine’s Take: When Millennials Have To Choose, They Want Meaning Over Money

For some, this lifestyle comes across as unambitious. Why isn’t she working five days a week and living on her own? This young woman – like many of her Millennial peers – simply has a different, but extremely focused, set of values. She has a strong sense of self, and determined early on that she wants to use her expertise to work specifically in the not-for-profit sector. So to accomplish her dreams and land a full-time position in her dream job, she’s willing to make a strategic short-term sacrifice.

This Millennial woman – and others like her – still aspires to have steady, full-time employment – and all the security and benefits that come from that. But when faced with the choice between secure full-time work in a field she finds less engaging, or part-time work in the field she’s passionate about, she’s sacrificed the short-term gains of the former to make the necessary connections and gain real-world experience in the latter. Even though it means less financial security and living with her parents, she knows she’ll get more relevant experience working in her field – and if part-time is all that’s available, so be it.

It’s a focused, entrepreneurial career-path, with quite a lot of foresight and strategy involved. Furthermore, she’s committed to staying flexible in order to keep working her way up toward the ultimate goal: steady, full-time employment in her chosen field so that she finds her work mentally, emotionally, and spiritually fulfilling.

Carol’s Take: Millennials Face A Harsher Economic Reality

This commitment to values-guided living is typical of the Millennial generation – but many of them are disappointed, after studying areas they are passionate about, to find that the workforce is less than welcoming in those fields. We have an alarming crisis in youth employment across North America. Many talented young Millennials can find only part-time or contract work in their chosen industries – or no work at all. As it becomes increasingly difficult to break into entry-level positions, or even to gain acceptance into post-graduate programs, Millennials are finding it near impossible to make a living in work they find meaningful.

Forced to work minimal hours, and many of them still paying off student loans for undergraduate and graduate degrees, Millennials in many instances simply cannot afford the things previous generations took for granted, like independent living. Those two forces, meaningful work and limited opportunities, conspire to make many Millennials poorer than other generations were at their age – which is probably why this young woman lives with her parents.

This also explains the Millennials’ apparent disdain for employer loyalty – and why this young woman would jump at the chance for a better opportunity. Is it really fair to expect her to be loyal to an employer who isn’t paying her enough or offering enough hours to make ends meet? Her openness to explore other opportunities, should they arise, is just good business. At all times, she’s keeping a focus on the bigger picture: her long-term career in the non-profit sector.

Understand Millennials: A Little Empathy Goes A Long Way

When employers struggle to understand Millennials in the workplace, they’re tempting to paint them all with the same brush. But many of the seemingly unconventional choices Millennials make are not because of inherent laziness, selfishness, or ineptitude: they are usually value-based decisions or ones made out of necessity. Understanding what motivates Millennials – and being empathetic to the particular difficulties this generation faces – can help employers.

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