The Millennial Way: Beyond Live-to-Work or Work-to-Live

In the classic comedy movie What About Bob, Bill Murray tells his therapist, “There are two kinds of people in the world: those who love Neil Diamond and those who don’t”.

Many of us use this same ‘either/or’ principle to assess the behaviors or others. We label others as creative or concrete thinkers. People like the big picture or are detail oriented. They are individualistic or they are group-oriented. They are wired as introverts or extroverts.

However, these tidy boxes don’t always work and sometimes events come along which shake our thinking. For example, the term ‘ambiverts‘ has recently emerged to create a third category of people who are a mix of introvert/extrovert. As I work with clients and speak to them about their challenges, I often hear the behaviors and expectations of Millennials are breaking many of the ‘either/or’ categories that we like to use.

More specifically, many people are asking me what motivates Millennials in their work. In the past, my ‘either/or’ thinking has answered this question in two ways;

  1. People work-to-live. Work is just something they do and is not highly important. It means that they punch-out at 5:00!
  2. People live-to-work. Those who are oriented this way don’t watch the clock because they are driven to perform. Work is their life.

However, I don’t think Millennials fit into these two categories as cleanly as previous generations have. So I tried to think of some alternate Millennial options….and I didn’t come up with anything! So instead, I have asked three qualified people to answer the following question:

If employees from previous generations tended to fall into these categories – they worked to live or they lived to work – what new category does the majority of Millennials fall into?

Here are their replies:

Paul Sohn: Millennials work to make a difference. An overwhelming reason why Millennials work is simply because they seek to make a difference. The fact that their creative talents can be harnessed for a higher purpose energizes Millennials to wake up every day, knowing that their work matters and that they can make a dent in the universe. The fastest way to disengage a Millennial is simply give them a routine and transaction work that barely uses their talents and passions. On the other hand, the fastest way to engage a Millennial is to paint a lofty picture of a compelling vision and get them to be an integral part of it.

Matt NixonMillennials live to do worthwhile work. We have grown up watching our parents commute to a job they did not enjoy or feel passionate about. We understand that we need to make money, but we are willing to take a lower salary or work more hours if it is for a cause we believe in. While job security and financial peace were our parents’ motives for working (and those are great motives), we are concerned with making the world a better place and will move from job to job until we see this happen.

Jane BoyleLife First, Salary Optional. Millennials do not like to be boxed into any category or much less stereotyped–be it at work or home.  They are loyal to their employer so long as the job suits their needs and ties in with their requirement for flexibility and work-life balance. They want the freedom to focus on meaningful relationships and experiences.  Flexibility means being able to work in a way that suits them best—be it at home, on the beach, or in the coffee shop on the corner.  They prefer not be constrained by when they work (e.g. skipping the traditional 9 to 5 shift in order to break a 40-hour week into segments at different times of the day).  Having greater autonomy over their work schedule (that rewards results over hours worked), generates a diverse and engaging environment, and creates a stimulating atmosphere that offers work-life balance is the key to a Millennial’s heart.

Do these insights align with yours? If not, what would you add?


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Jeff Suderman is a futurist, consultant, Gen X’er and professor who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman Email:

With thanks to my guest contributors!

Matt Nixon is a Millennial, Enrollment Professional, MA student and husband. He lives and works in Costa Mesa, CA.

Paul Sohn is a Millennial, author, blogger and MA student. He lives and consults from his base in San Diego, CA.

Jane Boyle is an X’er, recently minted MA graduate and wife who lives in Virginia. She recently completed her thesis on creating organizational opportunities for Millennials.

The Digital Natives are Eating My Norms!

Eight years ago we bought our first flat-screen television. About a month after this purchase my eight year old boldly told me that we needed another one downstairs. I regressed into classic father-mode and said, “Are you kidding me! When I was your age, I remember getting our first color TV”. He looked at me blankly and asked, “What color was it?”

I’m getting to the age where I’m starting to acknowledge that I’m different. I have children who don’t comprehend black-and-white television. Last night’s 16 year old American Idol performer sang a classic Bryan Adams song that she “had never heard before”. My daughter recently pointed out a nondescript young lady buying a hot dog at an Orange County fair and whispered, “she has over a million subscribers on her You-Tube channel.”

As Bob Dylan was crooned, “the times, they are a changing…”.

Much of this shift is rooted in the rapid technological change we have undergone in the past 30 years. The terms digital natives and digital immigrants are used to describe the mindsets differences such as the ones noted above. Digital natives are the generation of people Digital Immigrant Storyborn during or after the rise of digital technologies Conversely, digital immigrants are people born before the advent of digital technology (DeGraff). I am clearly an immigrant with native children who believe ubiquitous WiFi is a birthright!

As a result of our different histories, digital natives and immigrants have  different cultural norms. The environments they were raised in provide each with a different worldview. At times this causes us to clash. However, we can each benefit by learning from the advantages that each style brings.

Degraff outlines some helpful things that digital natives can teach digital immigrants:

  • To collaborate across boundaries, with a variety of people.
  • To make a place in life for values.
  • To build solutions that are horizontal.

In turn, digital immigrants can teach digital natives:

  • To achieve goals quickly.
  • To use focused resources in building things to scale.
  • To revitalize or repurpose existing institutions.

No matter which side of this spectrum you are on, you need to learn how to deal with others who think differently than you do. I believe that we can respond to these differences with one of the following strategies:

  1. We resist and pretend we don’t need to change.
  2. We duck ask the other person to change.
  3. We change.

Personally, I am a strong advocate of number 3 despite the fact that it means I have to pay attention to things like Nintendo, the Coachella festival and those quirky hipsters.

I recently read an educator who was speaking about the future of on-line learning. He noted, “I can hardly wait until we have on-line classes courses taught by millennials”. He understands that digital natives are going to transform our world in positive ways. Hopefully, both digital natives and immigrants will continue to transform the way we work. Are you willing to change?

Head ShotJeff Suderman is a thought leader and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and their Future-Readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman


Chris Mark (Feb. 18, 2015). Design for Millennials.

Jeff DeGraff (June 16, 2014). Digital natives vs. digital immigrants.