Posted July 16, 2018 by Amy Timco
I’m a Millennial, and to many people that makes me a rebel, especially in the workplace. But I’m not a workplace rebel—I’m a workplace rethinker. Let me tell you why.
Recently I came across this sketchnote that opened my eyes to how my workplace behavior could sometimes be perceived as rebellious. It’s true: I like to ask why we do the things we do. When I have a full understanding of the reasons, background, and context of a project, I can bring much more to it than a rote function. I don’t want to rebel, but I do want to rethink. And that’s a good thing.
The difference between rebellion and rethinking in the workplace is this: people rebel for personal gain of some kind, but they rethink for the quality and/or efficiency of the work. In general, asking why today is not a challenge to authority but a simple request for the knowledge needed to create a new solution. Like the rest of my generation, I was reared to believe I was intelligent and resourceful, and that I had something valuable to contribute. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that that’s exactly what I want to do in my professional life.
Why should we settle for the status quo? Why can’t we explore new ways to work more quickly and effectively? Isn’t that the goal of every business in America? What can we gain if we’re willing to change the way we have always done things? What do we miss when we squash or dismiss the simple question why?
We need people who want to approach things from a different angle, who want to innovate and improve the status quo for everyone. This is one of the greatest strengths of my generation, but in many rethinkers it may not be fully appreciated and utilized in the workplace. According to Deloitte, two-thirds of Millennial workers are looking to leave their current employment by 2020. That’s astounding. As part of this generation, I believe it’s partly because their why at work is not being heard or answered. We want to know more so we can contribute more. It’s as simple as that.
This desire to understand why reaches back into my high school and college years. There were certain subjects I struggled with (algebra, I’m looking at you). One of my frequent questions was why—why do I have to learn this? Why does this matter to me? How will I ever use this knowledge in my future life? Unfortunately, that why was never sufficiently answered. While I did what I could, I’m sure my performance would have been much enhanced if I had had a fuller understanding of the benefits of applying myself to the academic subjects I found irrelevant.
Today, I work in an environment that gives me the freedom to ask why—and the answers when I do. At TFS, I have the space to expand my abilities, embrace challenges, and perform at a level I can be proud of. And I’m always working to get better at my profession. TFS founder Mark C. Perna doesn’t just welcome, but expects everyone’s feedback (and sometimes pushback) for the sake of the quality of the work. I love brainstorming and thinking aloud with the team to solve our challenges. Mark gets all this; in fact, he wrote about it in his new book Answering Why: Unleashing Passion, Purpose, and Performance in Younger Generations, coming out in September. As a member of the Why Generation that Mark describes, I am excited to see how Answering Why will affect the workplace relationships between younger and older generations.
Though my workplace is ideally suited to my Why-Gen characteristics, I know that many others in my generation don’t enjoy that luxury. It’s my hope that Answering Why will help bridge the generational gap and help us all see that the question why doesn’t have to be a problem. In fact, it’s a prerequisite for new thinking and fresh ideas that will make things better for everyone. It really is true: we don’t want to rebel. We just want to rethink.