View from HR: Employers need to adjust to how young employees view work

Our annual extended family vacation is for re-connecting. It also reveals varying attitudes toward work from a great-grandmother to the new baby.

Some of us are tethered to work with no clear break. Work is always there, pulling at our sleeves. Conference calls, solving problems and rehashing recent events: work stays in charge, even dominates. Wi-Fi is more important than the icemaker.

Some of us are merely aware of work and feed it the occasional biscuit, hoping it naps most of the week. If work seeks attention, it gets the minimum. Important, but compartmentalized, it will be there when we re-engage.

The under-30 crowd looks at work differently. No less committed to good work, but less likely to view work as either dominant or separate. Work and life are physically, emotionally and technically interdependent.

Everything’s urgent

At the risk of sounding my age, I have a message for employers: wake up!

First, accept these basics. Water cooler conversation now reaches into every moment and space. What happened at work, what the indifferent manager said, what another employee did: that moment goes from head to finger to ether to eyes to head and back again. It swirls and builds and enlarges. It happens all day and well into the evening. It wakes up and goes to bed with its owners. The trivial and important mix together and everything feels urgent.

That much is easy to understand. The hard part comes next.

If work is always present at home, and home is always present at work, then our work is integral to our personal worth. If work neither sits quietly in a drawer until morning, nor dominates our lives, it better be the kind of twenty-four hour visitor we want in our homes and social networks. If work is a regular intrusive reminder that we dislike who we are, what we do and why we do it, how can we be a good person?

Value of work

So, my anecdotally driven, non-scientific epiphany is that employees may increasingly require their work be consistent with (and supportive of) who they are outside of work. To be a good and socially contributing person, they need to see how their work also is good. How does my work affect others? If I have a good answer to that question, work builds upon a positive view of self.

This is very different than a Boomer defined primarily by his work. This is about work deserving a place in a person’s life.

Employers can no longer depend on employees to eat/breathe their work or to keep it in a separate box. Increasingly, a bad job with a bad manager and an ill-defined purpose means a misspent life. Your new employees want their work to have purpose and to support their life’s purpose.

It is much to ask of work, but the best employees are looking for these jobs. Our grandson will join with employers that understand this unity between self and work or he will create his own work.

Bruce Clarke, J.D., is CEO of CAI, helping more than 1,000 North Carolina employers maximize employee engagement and minimize employer liability. For more information, visit