The Lost Generation: Disillusionment in the Workforce

People are defined by their experiences, and similarly, generations are defined by their socioeconomic environments. For instance, Traditionalists are branded by their bravery and resoluteness during WWII and are sometimes referred to as The Greatest Generation. Baby Boomers came on the scene during an economic surplus and grew into the generation that coined the term workaholic. Every generation is affected by positive and negative events surrounding their coming of age, and one of the most historically significant events in human history was the First World War. It was the beginning of globalization and the end of empires. The events of this war defined a generation, and subsequently, produced some of the 20th century’s most influential writers, from Ernest Hemmingway to F. Scott Fitzgerald. Referred to as The Lost Generation, this group of expatriate writers displayed a new view on life: disillusionment.


Defined, disillusionment is simply the displeasure in discovering something isn’t as it was expected, from life situations to personal relationships to career paths. Everything building up to the Great War suggested one thing, but the turmoil delivered something different entirely. No one believed an apocalyptic event like World War I was possible, so once the dust settled, the war’s aftermath followed. What once was important to some people in The Lost Generation now seemed trivial. The beliefs and values which sustained society before the war were no longer applicable to their current state. This viewpoint led to the Jazz Age, which was characterized as a time of youthful rebellion against traditionalism. The outlandish lifestyles of the Roaring Twenties were epitomized in Fitzgerald’s masterpiece The Great Gatsby.

Millennials: The New Lost Generation

As the World War I generation was defined by utter chaos and turmoil due to global war and unrest, the Millennial generation, or Gen Y, is defined by a different type of chaos, turmoil, and unrest – economic instability. This generation came of age during the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression. And just as no one in the early 20th century believed a world war could take place, similarly, a global recession of the magnitude seen in 2008 wasn’t viewed as a possibility in the 21st century either. However, instead of affecting personal beliefs and moral standards, the disillusionment that has settled in the aftermath of economic instability affects traits such as business ethics, company loyalty, and employee engagement. And, as was the case for the original Lost Generation, the former idea that if you work hard and are virtuous, good things will happen doesn’t always apply in the workplace anymore in the minds of many Millennials. Certain expectations associated with graduating college and starting careers haven’t lined up with the reality of the new economic climate – hence disillusionment in the workforce.

Refusal to Accept Social Norms

In their writings, Fitzgerald and Hemmingway both alluded to the effects of hedonism and the refusal to accept the American Dream. Likewise, Millennials are elevating the importance of self-sustainability and refusal to accept corporate and career normalcies. In fact, to circumvent employment struggles, many Millennials are opting to take a different career path. According to the Kauffman Foundation, 54% of Gen Yers have either started a business or have the desire to start one. Moreover, U.S. Chamber of Commerce data reveals that 27% of this generation is already self-employed. This “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” mentality isn’t a new concept, but has resurfaced as the quintessential driving force in every new movement within generations. The refusal to accept social norms is what gives the New Lost Generation the potential to bring about true innovation and market competiveness in business.

The Future of the Formality

Numerous studies have been done regarding Millennials in the workforce and their impact on the way companies do business and connect with consumers. And one main factor that is centered on several of the studies is the impact of economic instability. In a study by American Progress, research found that 42% of Gen Yers believe that current economic issues “show what happens when you rely too much on the market and reduce regulations on corporations.” Trust in the system is lacking, so they are creating their own system. Classic conventions and formalities, which were in place before the economic shift, are no longer applicable for businesses and consumers. What Millennials expected to experience outside of college hasn’t met up with reality. And here is where you find disillusionment in the workforce. The New Lost Generation is creating a new path. How the workplace responds in the coming years remains to be seen.

Have you experienced disillusionment in your workforce? How have you maintained a strong team despite instability? Let us know in the comments section below!

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply