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Millennials and the ‘Identity Economy’

Environmental Psychologist and Wellbeing Consultant

Millennials and the ‘Identity Economy’

It’s safe to say that older generations aren’t too fond of millennials.

Over the last few years, there has definitely been an increase in the ‘back and forth’ between those born between 1981 and 1996 (millennials) and their elders from previous generations, with those in the latter camp(s) often describing those in the former as being lazy, entitled, and lacking loyalty – particularly where work is concerned. 

The question is, why do they think this?

The answer, on the face of it, appears a simple one – millennials change jobs far more than previous generations and perceived as being more sensitive than older generations.

But is it really that straightforward? Are millennials simply just lazier and more sensitive than their elders?

Not according to renowned therapists. Some are firmly of the opinion that the reason millennials workplace habits are this way inclined is that they actually value their occupation more. In fact, they often see their occupation as a part of their own identity because they view work as being a product of the “identity economy” which has existed (and grown) whilst they have been growing up. 

But this isn’t exclusive to millennials; it exists in younger generations too and will undoubtedly continue to exist indefinitely. 

Why does ‘identity economy’ exist?

Group portrait of a creative business team standing outdoors, three quarter length, close up

In the Western world, young adults come out of school, make our choice whether we go to college or not, then venture into the world of work and careers. Whether someone goes to college or not, there is a period of around ten years where going to work is the ‘organising institution’ of their lives. Before they settle down and engage themselves in long-term commitments, their identity revolves primarily around their career.

This is wildly different from previous generations. Those in the ‘baby boomer’ (born between 1946 and 1964) and Generation X/Baby Bust (born between 1965 and 1979), saw their local community and religion as their sources of identity, viewing work as merely a means to earn money and provide for their family. 

Millennials and Generation Z however, view work not only as financial support but also as a path to personal fulfilment and satisfaction. And, since what they do for a living is so crucial to their identity, millennials (and Generation Z) consider their career as being far more important than previous generations. This, as you might expect, results in those in the Millennial and Generation Z brackets being far more selective about what they do for work.

As a result, older generations tend to criticise younger generations for having no loyalty to a job or an employer. Rather than committing to a job or company, they merely move from job to job always seeking higher pay, better rewards, and more satisfaction. Although this may certainly be beneficial from a personal perspective, it can lead to potential employers viewing candidates as fickle, ungrateful, and disloyal. 

Although ‘playing’ the job market may appear too self-serving, entitled, and greedy, it is, in most cases, merely a result of the environment(s) that millennial and Generation Z children were raised – something that must be remembered to help build understanding between different generations.

Ultimately, Millennials and Generation Z adults’ workplace habits and views have aren’t necessarily character flaws, but merely adaptions to the modern world.