• August 2012

Understand the “Me” Versus “We” Approach To Work + Prosperity

By Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais
Authors, Millennial Momentum

Since at least the time of Socrates, older generations have criticized younger ones for not being as smart, hardworking, polite, selfless, or strong as they themselves were when they were young.

For that reason, it’s hardly surprising that a cottage industry has arisen devoted to attacking the nation’s youngest generation, Millennials (born 1982-2003), as a lazy, soft, self-centered, and narcissistic “me” generation.” Why? Research suggests this tsk-tsking of young adults has found a receptive, albeit selective, audience among older Americans.

Attacks on young people make for provocative media copy and may help sell books or generate publicity for those who find satisfaction in criticizing other generations. But, contrary to these charges, both generational theory and the real-life attitudes and behavior of Millennials demonstrate that, in fact, their cohort is far more accurately described as a “we” than a “me” generation.

Different types of generations have cycled throughout American history.

William Strauss and Neil Howe, the founders of generational theory, know that not everyone in a particular generation can be painted with the same brush.

They make a strong case that both of the two generations that immediately preceded the Millennials—Generation X and Baby Boomers—contain a larger share of individuals who are inwardly focused and self-oriented than does the Millennial Generation.

  • Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) were encouraged by their parents to develop strongly held internal values, which, as Boomers aged, gave their lives meaning and on which they continue to be unwilling to compromise.
  • Gen-Xers, (born 1965-1981) reared by their parents in an unprotected, critical manner, often became individualistic risk-takers and entrepreneurial adults.
  • Millennials, by contrast, are considered a “civic” generation and have historically been group-oriented, problem-solving, institution builders or, in other words, a “we” generation.

The beliefs and behavior of Millennials confirm this description.

  • The contribution of these young Millennials to America’s nonprofits is both striking and crucial. In 2008, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service, Millennials provided over a billion hours of service, worth more than $22 billion.
  • Some would argue that as impressive as these numbers may be, much of this teenage community service is actually “forced labor” because it is a graduation requirement at many US high schools and, therefore, will not be sustained once Millennials graduate.
  • But, in fact, most Millennials do retain at least this lesson from high school as they age. Among Millennials entering college in 2011, for example, 70 percent said it is “essential or very important to help people in need,” the highest percentage ever recorded.
  • After leaving college, 60 percent said they wanted to engage in service to “help the country” and they have delivered on this pledge. An April 2012 Pew survey indicates that 58 percent of Millennials (compared with 51 percent of older generations) had “done volunteer activities through or for an organization within the previous year.

Now, in ever-increasing numbers, Millennials are beginning to bring their civic generation values to the workforce.

A 2010 Cone Cause Evolution study found that when deciding where to work, 87 percent of Millennials, compared with less than 70 percent of the overall population, consider the causes a company supports.

Some Millennials are creating social entrepreneurships that let them use their energy and talent in original and imaginative ways.

  • Others expect to implement their values when they join more traditional organizations. In either case, more than other recent generations, Millennials will be driven by a desire and a need to make the world a better place.
  • This will permeate all aspects of their lives; not only their free time, but their work as well.

The bottom line

Older workers, take heart! And take a page from—or at least understand—the Millennials playbook.

Traditional or social entrepreneurs who recognize the Millennial Generation is a “we” rather than a “me” generation, and operate on that basis, will be in the best position to compete and prosper in the Millennial era ahead.

How Millennial are you?

To find out, take this quiz, courtesy of Pew Research: pewresearch.org/millennials/quiz.


About Morley Winograd

Morley Winograd is a Senior Fellow at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School’s Center on Communication Leadership and Policy.

He served as senior policy advisor to Vice President Al Gore and director of the National Partnership for Reinventing Government (NPR) from Dec. 1, 1997, until Jan. 20, 2001. Winograd also co-authored (with Dudley Buffa) “Taking Control: Politics in the Information Age” (Holt, 1996).

Currently, he is president and CEO of Morwin, Inc., a strategic planning consulting company for government and nonprofit organizations. Winograd earned a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and attended law school at the University of Michigan. He resides in Los Angeles.

About Michael D. Hais

Michael Hais served for a decade as vice president, Entertainment Research, and for more than 22 years overall at Frank N. Magid Associates, where he conducted audience research for hundreds of television stations, cable channels, and program producers in nearly all 50 states and more than a dozen foreign countries.

Prior to joining Magid in 1983, Hais was a political pollster for Democrats in Michigan and an assistant professor of Political Science at the University of Detroit. He received a BA from the University of Iowa, an MA from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and a PhD from the University of Maryland, all in Political Science. He resides in Los Angeles and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

Click here to read their wide-ranging observations on generations and culture.

And click here to read futurist Chris Carbone’s review of their newest book Millennial Momentum.