Do We Work to Live or Live to Work?


The world is changing and so are the people. When I look at the junior members of my team, I notice very clearly that the fundamentals are changing. Of course, this might not be apparent to everybody and there are cultural differences. I am also not talking about those young people who are on the periphery of the society – the young people who are underachievers. Of course, they will always exist and the society needs to support and help them differently. The young adults I am talking about in this article are the (top) performers. These 10% of “high potentials” whom we call “toxic leaders” (Sharkey, L., P. Eccher (2011) so they are young people whom every company is looking for. So what are they like? 


Today’s young applicants belong to Generation Y. Generation Y is known as the generation that was born in the 1980s and the 1990s although I have found different definitions so it appears that even experts do not agree on when this era started. However, this generation has been watching for years how their parents have made the effort to earn enough money with a corresponding status. But now this group is searching for jobs and these young people have different priorities. They care less about salaries and more about flexible working schedules. As studies have also shown, salary and (hierarchical) status are not high on their priority list. But what does this mean for your organizations?   


Looking at the junior members of my team, they are largely unaffiliated with the company. But they are affiliated with organizations, but most probably the organization is not necessarily the company at which they are earning their money. Networks inside and outside the company’s framework are gaining much more importance. Their affiliations – and therefore the definition of status – are based more on people whereby this includes their supervisor and colleagues on the team. They live much more in the present and have no fears about the future. These people have never known, or felt hardship, recession or mass unemployment and thus do not fear the reoccurrence of such catastrophic events or losing everything. They want to enjoy their lives much more like we did at this age. Belonging to a network with which they have a great time obviously is of high importance. Therefore, we have to question the role of today’s leader. Does this mean that we have to become a leader of a network? And if so, what is our role in this network? 


To be successful, we need to get the best people on the market. We need to offer this new generation new possibilities. New career models which will give them enough time for living their lives, continuing education, and individual fulfilment. Our HR management systems have to change from the old organizational career model to a “protean” career model (Hall D.T, 2013) which means a career that is self-determined and where reward is based on our own moral concept rather than organizational benefits. Protean careers are uncoupling the term of career with one single organization. Most of my junior team members are earning their Master’s degrees and are therefore seeking part-time jobs. In our collaboration, I often recognize that the young generation expects more attention from us senior members of the team. In spite of any doubts in their abilities that this might cause, they are contributing significantly to our business success due to their knowledge of and skills working with the new media. The collaboration is changing and we have to treat them differently – our understanding of leadership has to change. 


I am very much convinced that, if we want to be successful with our young generation, our leadership has to be based much more on mindfulness. Scientific research on mindfulness has expanded significantly in recent years. The benefits associated with the practices of mindfulness have included enhanced positive mood – and this is the basis for motivating the young adults. 


While we accustom ourselves to Generation Y and discuss how to adapt the HR management systems accordingly, a new generation is knocking on our doors already: Generation Z.

Generation Z is the demographic generation after millennials. Based on its educational background, Generation Z will be even more independent and demand to be treated with even more respect as Generation Z is used to dealing with the challenges of the new world. Gen Z’s have been born into the crisis period of terrorism, the global recession and climate change. They know that our (business) world must change, they do not just represent the future, they are creating the new world. Generation Z is the most connected, educated and sophisticated generation ever. Therefore, if we radically change our HR systems to satisfy these needs, Generation Z will do this for us. Companies which are able to adapt faster will get the high potentials. 


Today, organizations have to offer a variety of possibilities to different generations. Our HR systems are forced to be flexible to an extent which we have never seen before. The HR tools of yesterday do not fit the new generation. We need leaders and leadership teams able to work in diverse networks and who are open to practicing mindfulness. We then have to measure the changes in body-mind behavior in order to see if this will result in our being able to more sustainably motivate our new generations.    


Recommended references:

  • Sharkey, L., P. Eccher: Optimizing Talent - Contemporary Trends in Organization Development and Change (2011).
  • Hall, Douglas T.: Careers in and out of organizations. London: Sage, 2002.
  • Hall, Douglas T.: The protean creer: A quarter- century journey. Journal of vocational behaviour 65, 2004.