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The Ultimate Motivator for Gen Y: Big Goals

— by Jessica Stillman

Gen Y employees get a bad rap as listless, entitled, attention span challenged and in need of constant praise. But perhaps the problem isn’t with their attitude, but with the way their work has been presented to them.

That’s the suggestion of a new post on Big Think, featuring the video below of Whole Foods CEO John Mackey. In it, Mackey argues that the trouble with Gen Y (aka the Millennials), who studies show are dissatisfied with their jobs, is the seeming pointlessness of the tasks they’ve been set.  Gen Y simply needs better goals, says Mackey.

Forget simply punching the clock and shifting the required volume of paper or goods, Gen Y “was born to engage, and overcome, lofty challenges,” argues Big Think. If they’re less than engaged, perhaps management has done a lousy job of explaining why their work is important.

Of course, born roughly between 1980-2000, the vast bult of Gen Y is only at the start of their careers, where naturally workers are more engaged with learning the nuts and bolts of their industries and functions, rather than spearheading radical rethinks of the status quo. So is the Big Think insight any use at all?

While Gen Y’s eyes may be bigger than its stomach when it comes to biting off big challenges for itself at work, knowing this propensity of young workers to need lofty goals can help trainers and managers better frame tasks to motivate their younger team members.

For teachers that may mean not stressing that the equation is on the test, but rather underlining how it’s a key link in the mathematical chain required to send satellites into space. Memorizing the periodic table may be boring, but it’s also a step on the road to ridding the world of dread diseases.

And at work, it’s not filing, it’s creating an essential reference bank of materials that’s the foundation of future insight and innovation at the company (and, hey, if you have any ideas on how to improve the system, go ahead and share.) And this week’s training? It isn’t just a matter of making a bit more money for some distant shareholder. It’s about improving the lives of customers, streamlining the business for sustainability or improving efficiency for better work-life balance.

Do you agree that framing goals differently can help better motivate Gen Y? Or are they just being their usual entitled selves to demand larger meaning from their daily grind?

Image courtesy of Flickr user DieselDemon, CC 2.0.

London-based blogger Jessica Stillman covers generational issues and trends in the workforce for

More about employee training and retention on the Mindflash blog.

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