The Importance of Purpose
Guest writer Christopher Kiely has written today’s blog post, The Importance of Purpose, as a continuation of his thoughts on meaning and purpose in the workplace.
As we discussed previously, one of the main contributors to the malaise about work and the lack of desire of a quarter of workers ages 20-34 to participate in the workforce was the lack of meaning and purpose found in the modern workforce. People were looking for “what it all means”. Members of the younger generations have seen their parents dedicate themselves to the 9-5, only to end up on the endless treadmill of unfulfilling work for narcissistic bosses assigned to them by uncaring and demanding companies. Running in place for decades for the opportunity to retire in the twilight of their life. And those are the lucky ones. Many others have seen their parents wind up laid-off, cast aside and dismissed after dedicating years and even decades to the treadmill.
Since writing that initial blog on this subject we have seen the mass layoffs in tech with the depressingly informative website “Layoffs.fyi” ¹ putting the numbers so far this year at over 100,000. That is on top of the 159,846 they tracked in 2022. These are the jobs the younger generations were told are the “jobs of the future”. Well, the future is now and apparently there is way too many of them. That is unlikely to provide anyone with much sense of purpose.
On a recent trip back from Nevada I took an Uber home from the airport. My driver was a millennial finishing up their Uber shift and we got to talking about mining (I was coming back from a mine), electric cars (we were in a Tesla), professions, and life. Turns out the Uber gig was only one of three jobs or “hustles”, as the kids say, all part of the “grind culture”. The Uber job paid for the Tesla, insurance and charging costs, plus some. The second hustle was real estate. They were going to do some “staging of a condo” for that hustle after the Uber gig, it was already 1AM. The third hustle was coaching, “legit sports coaching, not the life-coaching variety”. I have known a few of those… they often require the most life-coaching. But hey a good way to learn is to teach or coach. So, fake it until you make it, I guess. But I digress.
The millennial-hustler and I spoke about the layoffs in tech, he just chuckled unsympathetically. The notion of relying on that traditional relationship with a company seemed completely foreign and foolish to them. Keep in mind, they still depend on corporations and institutions for their hustles. There is no Uber-driver without Uber. Only the relationship has changed. My driver was the exact type of “worker” corporations used to be on the hunt for: intelligent, confident, charismatic, driven, self-motivated, multi-tasker, willing to work long hours, etc… and for years our schools cranked out willing workers conditioned to seek approval from institutions, including corporations. But the new hustler of the grind culture has no time for those systems of control and authority when there are apparent by-passes everywhere.
Along the way that whole system has worn out and broken down, call it a lack of foresight, poor planning or malicious neglect, it really doesn’t matter. I’m not here to pick sides and theories. But I will view with suspicion and/or slight pity anyone that does not recognize the current state of our institutions. From education, to healthcare, to government itself, all have been shown to be questionable in their authority of late. This does not go unnoticed by our youth. I know, I have a few in the house. They trust in very little and have “faith” in even less, including our venerated institutions. They believe more in their phone than they do in much else. The opportunity technology provides youth is underestimated and under-appreciated by older generations. They will have no time for our institutional systems of control and authority. Not the smart ones anyway. The emperor has no clothes.
But, replacing a treadmill with a grind does not sound like much of a step-up, and certainly not a step-off. I worry that in pursuit of “what it all means” in a world of deep cynicism there is a risk of repeating the same old mistakes while making all new ones. The lesson seems to have been learned that corporations, jobs, the 9-to-5, do not provide a life of purpose. That is good, because in and of themselves, they don’t. But as I said, there is still no need for an Uber-driver without Uber. Only the nature of the relationship has changed. While the young hustling-grinder sees freedom and opportunity to work as they please. The corporation has a workforce it views as contract and replaceable, the backdrop of dystopian sci-fi. Some will say it has always been that way and the notion of loyalty to employees was just a façade. I would hesitate to disagree but would argue the façade kept some people dedicated and loyal. Removing it all together is certain to affect such things negatively and the façade crumbling to the ground in their lifetimes as they are due to continue the charade, is bound to impact a generation.
We have a generation of youth that seem to be trading a treadmill for a grind combined with a new type of corporate disregard for people that provides people with little reason to want to work for many corporations, beyond hand-to-mouth necessity. All at a time when our institutions seem strained by expected everyday use. I understand the younger generations being disillusioned by it all. I was disillusioned when I was their age, I still am frankly. What disillusioned me then has not become any better. Now whether all this hustling and grinding leads anywhere different than the treadmill of old remains to be seen. My driver certainly seemed to be focused on the ever-arriving future, a state of being we continue to mistake for purpose and tends to lead us to look back with regret. I have the feeling both the corporations failing to harness passion and provide any sense of purpose and the young generation choosing to use passion to grind for purpose, are both failing one another.
Corporations that are serious about the quality of life they provide their employees (really serious, not sort-of-serious in a CSR, good-PR type of way), need to be honest with themselves about what passions and purpose employees have the opportunity to find in their companies. Are there any? Maybe there really is not. What passions and purpose are some jobs capable of providing?
Why do employees want to come to work? If most companies are honest with themselves, they really haven’t thought about it much more than “you should be happy you have a job here” and “we pay you” levels of thought. “Good” companies add occasional pizza, barbecues and donuts, maybe a “family atmosphere” type pitch. Top tier companies provide daily fruit and granola bars, rock climbing walls, and mental health programs (hmm… sort of like they know).
If the reality is, most people work for money and little other “passion or purpose” and on the flipside most companies have no real passion or purpose to provide and will ditch you and your job ASAP in order to stay afloat or satisfy investors, then maybe it is time we are all simply honest about that? I am certainly not one to argue with the frank reality of things.
A company that still wants the top hustling-grinders of every generation, will need to develop a new way of relating to and renumerating their employees. Hierarchies are overrated, yearly reviews are lazy, mandated hours for many jobs are unnecessary, quit wasting time training unqualified managers how to manage themselves around those they manage, (i.e., leadership training). Leadership is learned in grade school and most schools don’t teach it anymore. Besides, most workers do not need leaders, they need mentors and cooperative peers. Corporate structures need to be re-examined, or corporations will struggle to attract the brightest and best of the younger generations.
A company with passions and purpose to provide, should understand how to recognize, provide and cultivate it. Otherwise, they should encourage and allow employees the freedom to find those things elsewhere in their lives while they support the pursuit. As for the young generation hustling for the grind and grinding for the hustle, don’t mistake constant work and the endless pursuit of future things to be purpose. The treadmill itself wasn’t the trap for the older generations, it was not being happy on the treadmill while thinking it would lead somewhere better. No one can tell anyone what their life’s passions and purpose are, or even provide it to them, but I do know it is found in the now, not in the future.