Millennials' Quarter-Life Crisis
Millennials, also known as Generation Y or Quarter-Lifers, (basically, those currently in their 20s and early 30s) are facing one of the toughest economic climates for many years, and the pressure is starting to show.
Mental health amongst this generation is deteriorating (one in ten young people now experience mental health problems), staff retention is down, indicating a lack of satisfaction at work, and more and more Millennials are being priced out of the housing market, with one in four young adults returning to live with their parents between the ages of 25 and 34.
Cosmopolitan's article blames this experience on the working world turning out to be nothing like this generation expected or wanted. After years of solid education, the workplace presents itself as a dull, routine, challenge-less and meaningless void where souls go to die, working long hours with little recognition, feedback, or impact.
The reality of the 9-5 is a sheer disappointment for many. Many of my coaching clients describe elation at getting their first job, of which they gave little thought to, focusing heavily on the desperate need to earn following university to pay off student and credit card loans. A couple of years later, the dust settles and they start to wake up and realise they have started down a path that does not suit them, their values, or priorities in life. The question, “is this is it for the rest of my life?"becomes a constant niggle. However, following this awareness that all is not as it should be comes the anxiety that they have no idea what they would be more suited to, or what they would like to dedicate their career to instead. Globalisation has created a sea of endless opportunities and choice for this generation, which you think would work in their favour. Not so; it results in what looks like a rabbit in headlights - stuck, panicked, with no idea which way to turn.
Along with this panic, an anxiety creeps in related to the perceived pressures of what others will think should they decide to give up their sensible and secure corporate job for a world of uncertainty and financial insecurity. Baby Boomer parents, with career paths as straight as a rod, worry their children have lost the plot when they announce they are unhappy in their job as a Lawyer and wish to jack it all in to open a trendy cafe in Shoreditch.
They fail to understand this generations' desperate need to find a career that deeply matches their interests and passions, and one that offers variety, meaning and something tangible in their life. Running the hamster wheel everyday, there seems to be no identifiable outcome to the work they put in. Who is benefiting from this? No one but the fat cat at the top. From my experience, Millennials want to help people and their community. They want to see the direct impact of the work they do. They draw their identity and wellbeing from this role.
But what's driving this need to use our jobs to define us?
Developmental theory talks of our late teens as being the time we aim to form our independence, carving out our identity at the same time. However, we're staying in education much longer in order to stay ahead of our competitors - everyone seems to have a degree these days and so now a Masters becomes standard, with only a PhD giving you the competitive advantage, which you may not complete till you are in to your 30s. The housing market is impossible to break in to, and finding 'the one' to marry and have children with by the time you are 30 is rather difficult in a society where we work late and barely have time to exercise and see friends, let alone meet and date someone new.
These things used to happen much quicker and with more ease, meaning we formed our identity and independence much earlier in life. Now it seems the journey earlier generations took in their adolescent years, Millennials don't start till well in to their 20s or early 30s. Yet, growing up, they thought they'd have it all sorted by the time they were 30 because, well, their parents did, and apparently most of their friends have done too, according to Facebook, that is. But who really has it all sorted? Comparing your life with someone else's perceived reality isn't always an accurate comparison.
Social media hasn't helped the situation either. A constant barrage of messages and photos of 'friends' enjoying themselves, getting promotions, travelling and partying with their job does nothing to ease the pressure to succeed in life. We are group animals after all; we hate to feel left out for fear of being cast out of our social group and being left behind to fend for ourselves - survival of the fittest and all that. Nonetheless, more and more Millennials are realising that they can still survive, and be far happier, carving out their own path, making decisions based on their own timescales and values.
The workplace is changing: more and more people are choosing to work from home, the right to request flexible working has recently become a statutory right, and start-ups are proving increasingly more popular with Millennials, as they start to create a work environment that suits their individual needs and desire for outcomes, meaning, and personal impact. Fair play to the leaders of the future.