Moving from ME to WE: Embracing the Millennial Mindset

Guest blog post by Michelle Spehr, a Wellness Underground Workshop Alumni.


The most awesome six minutes and 40 seconds of my career was in February 2016 when I gave a peer presentation to an intimate group of industry leaders, friends, and colleagues from the wellness industry.  It was my first time attending the Wellness Underground Workshop and they gave me two guidelines for preparing my talk; the topic should be something that I am passionate about and I had the floor for only six minutes and 40 seconds -- thus the name [Six-Forty]. 

I decided that my [Six-Forty] presentation would be about millennials.  Full disclosure:  I am not a millennial and I wasn’t necessarily passionate about millennials.  But I was certainly passionately curious about this generation.  And I knew that this was a critical topic to address since millennials will make up 75% of the global workforce by 2025. If we are to effectively guide our own or client organizations on the best approaches for creating the conditions so employees can bring their best selves to work each day, we need to understand our audience.

 Michelle presenting at the 2016 WU Workshop in Orlando

Michelle presenting at the 2016 WU Workshop in Orlando

As I prepared for the presentation, I learned that everyone seems to have a viewpoint about Millennials – including Millennials themselves.  And there is no shortage of humor about Millennials and generational differences.  For example, E-Cards have a variety of options addressing the common stereotypes that Millennials are social media obsessed or entitled.  And if you’re not one of the 3.5 million people who have viewed the YouTube video Millennials:  We Suck and We Sorry, it’s worth a look.

All joking aside, Millennials are contributing to one of the most significant demographic shifts that employers have faced in 40 years and I’ve come to appreciate this generation as it has more to teach those of us that work in the wellness space about wellbeing than we have to teach them.  Here are a few of the game changing insights I learned about Millennials that has significantly influenced how I approach wellness and well-being conversations as I consult employer groups.

ME thinking is being replaced by WE thinking.  According to Strauss and Howe in their book The Fourth Turning, there’s a predictable generational shift that’s taking place.  They explain that there are four moods or the era types that are shaped by the societal events that occur as individuals in that generation come of age and enter into the workforce.  Apparently the pattern of Crisis, High, Awakening, and Unraveling has repeated itself over and over again for the past 500 years.  We’re amidst of a generational change that we’ve actually seen before with the G.I generation.  Millennials and the G.I. generation, who both grew up during a time of Crisis, are characterized by their tendency to put the group ahead of the individual – a WE generation.  Boomers, a “live to work” generation who grew up during a time a scarcity as the 80 million of them overwhelmed infrastructures, put individual ahead of the group – a ME generation.  GenX, a fiercely independent group who “works to live,” are also characterized as a ME generation. The workplace has operated under 40 years of ME thinking and this perspective sheds light on workplace dynamics and provides some guidance on how we can leverage this shift to move the wellbeing conversation forward.  Here are a few suggestions:

·        Think beyond physical wellbeing because purpose matters a lot to Millennials. I often encountered some resistance from Boomers and GenXers when I talk about Gallup’s Five Essential elements of well-being (purpose, community, social, financial and physical).  What I’ve come to appreciate is that they are approaching their work from a ME perspective and it’s difficult for them to embrace something they consider “soft” like purpose.  On the other hand, purpose is top of mind for Millennials and as more Millennials enter into management positions, I’m optimistic that they will advance the importance of purpose in the workplace.  The funny thing is that we can partially blame the Millennial “search of meaning” perspective on their Baby Boomer parents.  Baby Boomers are retiring at a rate of 10,000 per day and this is a very reflective time in their life.  Many are telling their Millennial children, “If you are going to work as long and as hard as I have for your entire career, do something you LOVE.”

·        Millennials thirst for social chemicals.  Some of the chemicals that create drive and happiness in us are selfish chemicals – ones that don’t last and can be experienced alone.  Endorphins (think of the runner’s high) and Dopamine (released when we complete a task) are two examples.    Social or selfless chemicals on the other hand must be shared and exist into the future.  Examples of social chemicals include Serotonin (related to the feeling of pride) and Oxytocin (generated by love, trust, and loyalty).  As a WE generation, Millennials are looking for a work environment filled with social chemicals -- where trust is omnipresent, teams don’t let each other fail, success is measured in terms of social impact and achievement as a group, there are coaching relationships, collaboration abounds, there are on-going conversations, and sacrifice is welcomed because it’s connected to a higher good. 

My spotlight moment at WU was amazing, not only for what I learned, but the connections and conversations that followed.   I’m optimistic about the future of workplace well-being and am looking forward to collaborating with others and embracing the Millennial mindset to help foster positive culture change where organizations and individuals are healthy, happy, and thriving.


Join Michelle and other professionals in and out of the wellness industry as we swap ideas, get inspired, walk away challenged and work to make well-being and worksite wellness more than the status quo! We have seats available at the 2017 February workshop, visit the workshop page for more information and to apply!