Guest Column

March 17, 2013

Millennials step to own tune

When I last visited with my father, a 95 year-old retired teamster, he asked me at dinner, “What happened to the American work ethic?”

I was relieved to learn that he wasn’t talking about my work ethic but that of the younger staff at the nursing home where he volunteers several days a week. He told me that the staff didn’t “seem to care.” Their attitude, he said, was that work wasn’t something you took pride in, but something you had to do between weekends.

My father is a member of what Tom Brokaw named “the greatest generation,” and they truly are. What makes my father’s generation great is not that they grew up working hard during the Great Depression, when there were few good jobs available and you took whatever work you could find. It’s not that they came out of the Great Depression only to enter military service and fight in World War II, where many served for “the duration,” not just a 12-month tour.

What makes them the “greatest” is their response to events that pushed an entire generation to its limits. They took all that life threw at them and created the strongest economy and the highest standard of living in the world. Their persistence in the face of adversity is what defines their greatness.

So, what is it that makes the work ethic of this generation, the Millennials, different?

Millennials aren’t much different from their peers in other countries, not at least according to people I know around the world. In email exchanges with friends in Europe, China and Australia, I’ve learned that the Millenials’ perceived “lack of work ethic” isn’t a problem unique to the United States. Employers worldwide seem to have the same issue — the inability to find people who are willing to “show up, show up on time, and show up ready to work.”

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