What can working life learn from the the young?

We all know how important friends are when you’re young. But there are other things besides friends, that the young value, especially when it comes to work: they value meaningfulness and doing good to other people.

Interestingly, the attitudes of the youth in Finland today – and I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the case in the rest of the world as well  – are closer to values of the generation that is now retiring than of those still in working life. This was told by Tommi Laitio, Director of Youth Affairs at the city of Helsinki, who was the guest speaker at Pause by Office Nomad event last week. His team has conducted extensive research on the values of the young people in Helsinki, so he knows what he’s talking about.

It seems that there is a stark contrast between what our youngsters value and what the working life today really offers. Let’s face it; the working life isn’t exactly characterised by altruism and giving, but rather on competition and competing personal interests. Little thought is given to helping others, unless it is bringing in money. And even if we wanted to be more helpful, we’re struggling to find the time for it.

However, according to Adam Grant, professor in organizational psychology at Wharton, helping others is not only rewarding in itself, it is also the key to success in working life. Helping others can also give much-needed meaninfulness at work. “In corporate America, people do sometimes feel that the work they do isn’t meaningful. And contributing to co-workers can be a substitute for that,” Grant says.

Adam Grant’s research is interesting also in the sense that it has financial backing. In his research, Grant brought a graduate student, who had gotten a grant to cover his tuition fees, to tell his story to the organisation, which was responsible for collecting money to pay young people’s tuition fees. A month after the graduate’s testimonial, the workers were bringing in 171 percent more revenue.

So, although we may think that the young may be a little be idealistic or even naiive in their thinking, reseach suggest that helping is not just for the idealists and gullible.

If meaningful, altruistic behaviour promotes success in working life, then perhaps our young people already hold the key to a building more successful workplaces. If so, then the minimum we should do is to make sure that we don’t take it away from them.

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.