Why do we work? 

The most obvious answer is that we work to live. As leaders we would like to believe that our team members arrive at work each day excited to be there and driven by purpose.

However, in a general sense, when we remove the rose tinted spectacles and look at the harsh reality, we would probably find that the majority of staff turn up each day in order to get a paycheck.


Over the last few months, I have been conducting global research into culture. Part of this questions the respondent companies about their purpose.  This is the greater and broader statement of belief that should underline the reason the staff come to work each day. The purpose is what drives the engine room of the organization.

I asked my Daughter to proof read an outline of a keynote speech aimed at the medium enterprise sector. One of the lines in the outline spoke about team members being driven by a greater sense of purpose. Additionally, that this sense of purpose only makes sense if it is in alignment with the core values of the team.

Generational Differences

My Daughter’s comments were that the majority of her generation (read millennials) were merely at work for the paycheck (and/or to climb the corporate ladder). I decided to do some thinking about this to understand the mindset of this group.

Perhaps this is the fundamental challenge for the next generation of leaders.  If our teams are only driven by a need to earn money, then how much effort and commitment is there towards achievement? How much time and effort should we as leaders put into our teams through their personal and business development?

I don’t believe that we can absolve ourselves as leaders of our responsibility to build up the next generation.

 I read recently that the way to work with millennials and some Gen Y’s is to accept that they work differently.  They as a general rule don’t want to conform to the traditional 9-5 job. They want to start at 10am and work till 8pm, give blood for the company, and live and breathe the  company. But after 2-3 years they will move on. They don’t necessarily dislike the job, they just want to change for the sake of change.

Perhaps actually nothing has changed too much. Over 35 years ago, when starting as a fresh faced engineering student in Johannesburg, we were addressed by the Dean on the first day. He gave the age old story – look left / right, in front and behind you – one of you five will graduate in 4 years time. Statistically he was not wrong, but was there a deeper meaning. I don’t believe the Dean knew or understood the implications for a group of baby boomers when referencing the millennials of today.

Look Left – Look Right

But if we delve deeper, and understand that the entry criteria for engineering were such that only the real top end of the school students were accepted to study engineering.  When looking at that group, they now formed the population of students and those of us that were the “clever” kids at school were suddenly average. We were suddenly spread out over the bell curve from having spent our school years in the very top percentiles.  This is the fundamental problem with the younger workforces today.

Our Millennials and Gen Z group (and this is a generalization) have been told throughout their childhood (irrespective of ability) that they were special. Unfortunately, the younger generations have also been indulged and exposed to a world of immediate satisfaction, a world of instant validation and a world where our concentration spans have shrunk to sound bites.

What is the problem

Here is the workforce problem.  Our workforce has been brought up with the speed of technology changing that brought newer and shinier objects to the fore all the time.  This workforce fails to recognize the difference between a new mobile phone and a new job.  Each provides its own challenges and rewards.

So as the leaders what do we do?  We have to have an environment that is so enticing it goes beyond the shiny objects. We have to have an environment that has a purpose. We have to have an environment that has a purpose that aligns with the value set of the team. We have to have a purpose that is so enticing it gives our teams a reason to make a difference to the world and our society.

Then and only then can we build a team that builds a community that hopefully makes some small difference in the world through their connectedness to a common purpose.

How does this challenge you and your organization ?