“What’s wrong with millennials?” What’s really wrong is anyone who thinks they can characterize an entire generation.
A video, which I’ve embedded below, purports to explain everything about millennials in the workplace. It’s from “Inside Quest” and has accumulated 61 million views. Tom Bilyeu, the interviewer, is cofounder of Quest Nutrition. Strangely, there is no identification of the expert who does all the talking, but it appears to be the author Simon Sinek, who I had been impressed with until he appeared in this video.
Sit back and stop thinking, and a seductive set of assertions and humor lulls you into believing. If you’re not in a critical frame of mind, it all makes perfect sense.
Generalizations about a generation are no different from generalizations about race or ethnic background. This is just another form of ageism, supported by a teeny set of questionable statistics. If a video like this was trying to explain why black people or Asian people have certain tendencies in the workplace, we’d all be crying racism. So why is it ok to assume that all people born since 1984 have the same set of problems for the same set of reasons?
No one deserves to be lumped into a group and blamed for the activities of other people in that group.
Here’s a few of the the assertions in this video, extracted separately so you can see evaluate whether they make any actual sense. And ask yourself: is this any different from the complaints older managers have always had about younger workers, who don’t “understand” and “think differently from the way we do?” ‘Twas every thus.
- Millennials are “tough to manage.” But new graduates were easy to manage in the past? Not really.
- Millennials “are accused of being entitled, narcissistic, self-interested, unfocused, and lazy.” Who’s accusing them? This is passive. And really: a whole generation of workers has these qualities? Doesn’t describe most of the people this age that I’ve hired.
- Millennials say “We want to work in a place with purpose . . . and we want free food and beanbags.” Most of the millennials I know say “I want a decent job and a chance to get ahead.” If you see other people at other companies getting free food, sure, you ask for it. But that doesn’t mean you actually think that’s what matters. And who doesn’t want a sense of purpose at work?
- Too many millennials grew up subject to “failed parenting strategies.” By all means, please criticize another generation at the same time: the one that raised the millennials. There are lots of different kinds of parents, just as there are lots of different kinds of millennials.
- Millennials were told they were special and could have anything they wanted in life. Maybe some. But you know, at school and at college, you rapidly learn that you can’t have everything you want. By the time you get to the workplace, if you still think this, you’re not paying attention.
- Some got into honors classes and got A’s just because parents complained. How many? Is this really a trend?
- Some got participation medals — a reward for coming in last. An old saw. Did participation trophies mess up a whole generation? Who knew that humans were so fragile? You know, actual abuse and neglect messes up children. Bullying is an actual problem. But humans are resilient. You can’t kill their desire to succeed with a participation trophy.
- You have an entire generation growing up with lower self-esteem than previous generations. Could the difficulty of finding and keeping a good job in this economy perhaps have something to do with this?
- Facebook makes it sound like everyone else is succeeding, which depresses people. This is valid. It’s also got nothing to do with generations. It applies to people in their thirties and forties — who all use Facebook — too.
- You have an entire generation with access to the numbing influence of dopamine through social media and smartphones. Versus previous generations that drank Scotch or smoked pot instead? Life is tough. People cope in unhealthy ways. It’s a problem. It’s always been a problem. Watch Mad Men and tell me that social media isn’t a better way to cope than what Don Draper and his pals used to do.
- Too many of them don’t know how to form deep and meaningful relationships, because of social media. Young people are awkward in relationships? Not any different from 1990 or 1975.
- Putting your cell phone on the table in a meeting, even face down, sends a message to the other members of the meeting that they are not important to you. Really?
- Addiction to mobile phones will destroy your relationships. I don’t think mobile phones are the problem if you can’t form relationships.
- Social media creates an expectation of instant gratification, but people at work can’t get that, so they give up quickly. How did they complete assignments in college? By writing a paper in 15 minutes?
- This new generation needs to learn that love and job fulfillment require patience. Not a characteristic of this generation. And like all humans, they are learning that.
- You’ll have a whole generation going through life and never finding joy. That’s a pretty broad generalization.
- Corporate environments care more about numbers than people, and that makes it harder for this generation. They have been this way for decades. And yet human mentoring still happens enough to help people succeed.
- The lack of leadership in companies is failing this generation. As opposed to the previous few generations? This is the endpoint of the analysis: your mommy was a bad mommy, so you’re messed up, so your company needs to be your new mommy. Wrong, wrong, and not realistic.
Beware all generalizations. Including this one.