Listening to a podcast recently, I came across the notion that the industrial revolution is why we search for meaning in life. I’m definitely paraphrasing… but essentially the psychology presented by Barry Schwartz was that while machines, processes and factories have made work easier, they made work less purposeful thus we search for meaning elsewhere.
Before the revolution, a blacksmith’s work was not separate from his life – the craft provided purpose and fulfilment. Then, the Industrial Revolution came along, mechanised the craft which ultimately un-entwined the ‘work’ from the ‘life’, to lose its meaning.
Now amidst a Digital Revolution, businesses and processes are being streamlined again and industries are more accountable than ever. Following Schwartz’s same theory would suggest that this would create a greater disconnect between ‘life’ and ‘work’. And it makes sense – the more computers and programs are taking responsibility and accountability off our hands, of course the result is that we feel less purpose.
What’s interesting, however, is that this revolution is coinciding with the Millennials (both Gen Y & Z) entering the workforce… and they do not accept this disconnect.
As a Millennial in the workforce, who reads a lot about Millennials in the workforce, there are attitudes and traits that we encompass that drastically differ from the generations in the labour-forces before us.
I think the most commonly recognised are:
- After growing up being told we should follow our dreams, we are specific and unwavering about what we want to do.
- And, having everything at our touch-typing, mouse-clicking fingertips means for us, business savvy and success is only a YouTube video away.
Then combine these with:
- Our ability and willingness to network and collaborate (I guess all those group assignments at uni paid off).
- And, our natural pull to authenticity (we want to work with people we connect with on projects we believe in).
You can see what this is really about is re-entwining our work with our life.
The obvious manifestation is that we either have or want to start our own business. And it’s actually the Digital Revolution that is enabling this. Together they are fostering a range of industries, businesses and thus jobs we’ve never seen before.
Now this comes with the caveat that flourishing Millennial-run businesses are still only a drop in the ocean; but it’s the intent that’s important. When we can’t or don’t work for ourselves, this intent manifests in a different way.
It’s why we choose employers that stand for something, enable us to find meaning in our work, or nurture us finding it alongside our work. A great example of this is 3M allowing their staff to spend 15% of their time on side-projects! And it’s an important thing for employers to be conscious of, otherwise they will lose bright young sparks to the allure of the search for meaning.
So the lovely thought that I want to leave you with?
We are in a Digital Revolution which enables us to manifest and monetise our dreams. Because Millennials are driven by passion first and foremost, we are recreating meaning in life through our work. A renais-olution of sorts.