The Commitment Issue

The generations are at it again in the workplace. I constantly hear managers complain that their younger workers just don’t seem nearly as committed to work as the previous generations were. They cite how so many of those workers seem to think that work is just going through the motions. If a major deadline is looming, they go home at “quitting time” rather than stay and help to get the work finished.  They want to know specific work-at-home days, as they keep their toddlers home from day care on those days (while contending they will still put in a full day of work). And, for no clarified reasons, they are more apt to just not show up or leave the organization.

And the managers often wonder what has happened to the good old work ethic. Pay and benefits are not expressed reasons why younger people are leaving, Nor do those who are checked out cite horrible bosses, or lousy work conditions. They just don’t seem interested in working.

The reasons for this are no doubt plentiful. Maybe there are suddenly more snow-plow, over-indulgent parents, who clear out any and all adversity for their kids. Perhaps schools are doing more coddling than challenging kids. Maybe there are too many examples of people who have worked very hard only to end up getting laid off due to some restructure. I have not seen a definitive explanation of this alleged change in worker commitment.

Just keep a couple things in mind if you are experiencing this. First, it is not every young worker who seems apathetic about work or a career. I might hazard a small wager that there is a much larger number who really want to work and develop themselves, than those who are seen as non-committed. Like every generation, there are vast differences in individual members.

Then keep in mind that the apparent lack of desire might be more situational than hard-wired. If their work experiences have been mostly transactional, that may be the way they view work, opposed to a rich part of life which can provide enormous fulfillment. Perhaps they have never been part of a robust and inspired group who loves its work and actually does make a difference for others. Maybe they just need someone to sit down with them and help them discover some passions and talents. These might be areas worth investigating.

Finally, never lose sight that people can and do change, for the right reasons. Their current level of ambivalence toward work or being a team contributor can be transformed in a number of cases. That said, it is highly likely it will take some time and effort to create the right reasons and make that happen. Given the number of young people in the workplace and the vast departures of retirement-ready workers, it is probably worth the struggle.

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