For many generations, young people have been change agents in society, ushering in cultural and political revolutions that have changed the landscape for everyone. Many have wondered if the millennial generation would have the fortitude to usher in similar change.
Over the past three years, millennials have answered the call and have been leading change in major ways. Across the globe, today’s twentysomethings have brought creativity in problem-solving, knowledge of technology and social media and how to use it in effective ways, and passion and initiative to question the way things are and even lead protests. Millennials know the current issues that need to be addressed and are not afraid to stand up and demand change while working hard to create it at the same time.
One revolution the world needs is in the workplace, and the millennial generation is poised to take the lead. Millennials will have a large voice in shaping the future of work for generations to come, and it’s time this generation got started changing the system.
The System of the Past
Capitalism can be a great thing. Analysis of all economic systems tested around the world over the past 200 years shows that free enterprise stands alone as the system that has proven it can lift entire nations out of poverty, inspire developments and advancement, and bring sustained quality of life to the majority of the population.
However, left unchecked and unregulated, a virus can take hold within capitalism as people become greedy and focus on the bottom line above all else. This disease has the ability to topple the system and hinder the advancement of many people in society.
The question we have to ask is, “Do we increase profits at any cost? Is there a limit? How will this affect not just our stockholders, but society as a whole?” We have examples of companies like Enron who did a great job of increasing shareholder value for their investors at the expense of the public. When the company went bankrupt in 2001, employees lost jobs, investors lost their investments and the public learned that millions of Americans had been taken advantage of during the tenure of executives who became insane with greed.
Our parents and grandparents had a social contract of sorts with their employers. Employees would be loyal and punch the time clock from nine to five each workday. In return, the company would provide a steady salary, loyalty, health insurance and retirement.
Over time and in a search for profits, jobs were shipped overseas, companies downsized, retirements were taken away and insurance was slowly reduced with co-pays and in many cases not available at all.
A Responsibility to Serve
We need an era of new social responsibility where companies understand that their role involves more than increasing shareholder value. We want companies to be successful, but not at the expense of employees, society or the environment.
Being responsible to all citizens in our midst is not only good for business, it’s also biblical. In Leviticus 23:22 the Lord commands, “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you.”
If God wanted us to maximize profits, He would have told us to glean to the edges and collect every last piece of grain. He, however, has a different plan. The landowner (business person) had the ability to provide for those in their midst by creating a system where some was left behind and others could be sustained. We should think through how this might apply in modern society.
To maximize profits and then afterward simply donate to charity does benefit the poor, but it does not accomplish what this Leviticus passage is talking about. People get value and self-worth from the ability to work and provide service to society. One of the greatest gifts a business owner can provide is a job.
There must be a balance between profits and making sure those in our midst are able to provide for themselves and their families. Companies need to discuss what their social responsibility is, not only for the environment but for their employees and communities. Millennials need to force this conversation to happen and guide it in the years to come.
The Millennial-Led Workforce
Providing opportunities for those in our society and taking care of employees require us to change old paradigms in our human resources departments. The old economy valued and rewarded job loyalty and longevity and viewed with suspicion those with multiple jobs over a career.
But in today’s new economy, companies are hiring people for short assignments. The average millennial is predicted to have at least 8–14 different careers in their lifetime. Our new system should value quality of work, demonstrated excellence, critical thinking skills, flexibility, teamwork, problem solving and creativity over longevity in a job.
Millennials also need to help restructure work-life balance. With the proliferation of technology that connects us to our jobs 24/7 from anywhere in the world, the 40-hour workweek is becoming a relic of the past. Work can easily bleed into every area of life.
However, the tide is turning, and people are demanding a change. Unplugging after hours is critical. The companies leading the charge in change are inspiring self-improvement and advocating healthy lifestyles with exercise and balance. This lifestyle not only benefits employees but reduces health care costs and missed work days.
As the freelancer economy grows (it is estimated that 35 percent of the U.S. workforce work as freelancers in some capacity), work hours are becoming more flexible. Some people are asking to work four 10-hour days, to have a three-day weekend. Some people are moving their schedules around so they can drop off their children at school and pick them up after. More employees work from home.
The freelancer revolution should inspire twentysomethings to do two things: First, look for ways to generate a second income doing what you love for other companies. Second, look for ways to have a flex schedule that improves your quality of life and work-life balance.
As this new economy is built around us, it is important to ensure that the changes we usher in are beneficial both for the employees and for the companies. Millennials are in a unique position to enter the workforce and have positions of influence as the world is undergoing massive structural change. Don’t waste this moment in history to make change that will benefit generations to come.
A workplace revolution is needed to ensure companies are good stewards of the environment, their employees and the communities in which they serve. We need to make companies with a profit-at-all-cost mentality a relic of the past. With wise use of technology, transparency and activism, the millennial generation will be able to reform the workplace like no generation before them has had the ability to do.