Millennials value their work more than older generations because they live in an 'identity economy,' says renowned therapist Esther Perel

  • To older generations, millennials appear lazy, entitled, and disloyal when it comes to work because they change jobs more often than previous generations did. They also are more sensitive to criticism.
  • Although those observations may be true, renowned therapist Esther Perel said millennials' workplace habits are actually the result of valuing their occupation more, seeing it as part of their own identity.
  • The way millennials view work is a product of the new "identity economy" in which they've been raised.
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Older generations have criticized millennials, calling them lazy and entitled for demanding higher pay, promotions, and moving from job to job, but according to renowned therapist Esther Perel, they've got it all wrong.

In reality, millennials, and even younger generations, view their work as more important than older generations ever have. That's because they live in an "identity economy," Perel told Insider.

"Certainly in the West, we often come out of school, maybe go to college, or not go to college, but probably have about a 10-year stint where work is the organizing institution of our life," Perel said. "Before we settle with anybody, before we engage in long-term commitments, we have work as the center of our identity."

This differs from older generations, who viewed religion and their local communities, not work, and sources of identity, Perel said. For them, work was viewed as a way to make money. For millennials and generation Z, however, work not only serves as a financial support system but also as a way for people to find personal satisfaction and fulfillment.

Since so much of their identities ride on what they do for a living, millennials consider their work more important than the generations before them, and are therefore more selective in what it is they actually do for work, Perel said.

"I think that my generation basically took things as they came and made the best of it. That's the deck of cards that was given to you and you're going to just find a way to live with it," Perel said of older generations. On the other hand, "there's a lot of compromises that the younger people don't want to make," she said — but that shouldn't be construed as a bad thing.

Millennials are searching for meaning in a world where they feel increasingly replaceable

According to Perel, older generations often criticize younger ones for having no sense of loyalty in the workplace. Rather than committing to a company or job, they move from job to job often, and some employers or managers perceive that as fickle and ungrateful behavior.

But Perel said millennials' inclination to play the job market is a product of the environments in which they were raised, and remembering that can build understanding among different generations.

"It's easy to just say they don't stay [at one job], but we [older generations] didn't live with that anxiety," she said. "I didn't live with the notion that I'm replaceable and everything that I do can be done by AI, you know? Therefore my need for purpose was very different too, because I wasn't made to feel irrelevant."

In Perel's eyes, millennials' workplace views and habits aren't character flaws, but adaptations to, as she called it, "the impermanence and the disposability of things," in the modern working world.

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