Barna has done a study of the millennial generation’s attitude towards work. Most do not see their careers as central to their identities (unlike Baby Boomers). Rather, their jobs are there to fund their personal interests. And yet, Millennial Christians are more likely than Baby Boomers to see their work in terms of “calling” (a.k.a. “vocation”).
The study discloses many fascinating paradoxes. The purpose of vocation–namely, loving and serving one’s neighbor (not oneself)–seems to be somewhat missing. As is the sense that vocation exists in the here and now, that whoever your neighbors are now defines your vocation. “Calling” is something they hope for in the future. Millennials do have a strong emphasis on wanting marriage and family, which is also a vocation, in addition to just work. But still, I give them credit.
Career Priorities, Projections and Aspirations
Given that Millennials are more likely to select “personal interests” over “career” when identifying what is central to their identity, it makes sense that their top career priorities are “funding my personal interests” (29%) and “working for myself” (27%).
What these top two priorities have in common is that they enable one to pursue a life outside of work. The first priority provides the financial means to pursue personal interests, whereas the second priority provides, among other things, the autonomy to flexibly arrange one’s work-schedule around other personal priorities. Millennials approach their career priorities pragmatically.
The diminished importance of a career does not, despite the poor employment rates, come from a place of pessimism about Millennials’ career prospects. In fact, they are optimistic—even if cautiously so. While a fair number of Millennials doubt they will land their dream job in the next five years, over half of them (52%) believe they will.
While many Millennials certainly do feel anxious about making the wrong career choice, 52 percent of them do not. This could be partly due to their belief in the transient nature of jobs. Nine in 10 Millennials expect to stay in a job for only three years.Even if Millennials expect to float from job to job, they are not searching aimlessly. When asked what their “dream job” looks like, the most common answer, trumping financial security (34%) and having enough money to enjoy life (24%), was “I feel passionate about it” (42%).
This is one of the biggest paradoxes of the Millennial mindset. It’s clear that starting and building a career isn’t as important to them as it was to previous generations. Millennials have many other projects and priorities going on outside of their work, and they want the financial means and flexibility to pursue them.
Yet, when they are prompted to think aspirationally and not just pragmatically, they clearly desire a lot from their jobs. They want their work to be aligned with their passions. But what does this look like? For recent university graduates, at least, “making an impact” is certainly part of the picture. In 2012, a study done by NetImpact found that 59 percent of graduating university students—compared to 53 percent of all Americans—believe that having a job where they can make an impact is essential or very important to their happiness.
This trend holds true among Christians. According to a 2012 Lead Well Research study, those under 40 (which includes Millennials) are more likely than those over 40 to have thought about whether they feel “called” to their current work (74% compared to 62%). For Millennials, “calling” is more than just about being called toward religious or ministry professions—they are thinking about whether they are “called” by God to their secular jobs as well. To be clear, most of them (69%) define “calling” not in a fixed, permanent way, but as something that can change over time as they age. This means they are likely thinking about whether they are called to their current work at this point in their lives, not for a lifetime.
Only 31 percent of Millennials feel “called” to their current work. Forty-four percent of them actually feel called to do something other than their current job, but haven’t been willing to make change yet because of their current situation.