“What’s really wrong with millennials?” asks Simon Sinek

Inside Quest: Simon Sinek

“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.

Resist.

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.

[Note: this post originally linked to a Facebook video, which eventually disappeared. I’ve replaced it with the YouTube equivalent.]

 

28 responses to ““What’s really wrong with millennials?” asks Simon Sinek

  1. I saw this video last week and thought he made some decent points, but this post opened my eyes. Thank you for breaking it down, as usual!

  2. every generation talks smack about the one before it- a time honored silly tradition- I think millennials get clumped in with a MAJOR issue that should be talked about is that a large part of our social fabric is getting ripped up by social media- maybe it wont end up being a big deal but we are entering an age of some funky communication where nuance where body language and face to face skills are diminished- it will be interesting

  3. Spot on post, Josh, thanks.

    Similar generalizations were cast on my generation, Gen X (1961-81). But, at least in the case of Time Magazine, these generalizations evolved over time (source: Generation X entry on Wikipedia)…

    – In 1990, Time magazine published an article titled Living: Proceeding With Caution, which described those in their 20s as aimless and unfocused.

    – In 1997, Time published an article titled Generation X Reconsidered, which retracted the previously reported negative stereotypes and reported positive accomplishments, citing Gen Xers’ tendency to found technology start ups and small businesses as well as Gen Xers’ ambition, which research showed was higher among Gen X young adults than older generations.

    – In 2002, Time magazine published an article titled Gen Xers Aren’t Slackers After All, reporting four out of five new businesses were the work of Gen Xers.

    I bet we’ll see a similar evolution in media coverage of millennials.

  4. Thanks for that splash of reality Josh. I’ve also liked many of Sinek’s previous talks, but this one was just another act of “piling on” the millennials. Way to break it up!

  5. Every generation thinks they invented sex… and every generation thinks they invented being mad about the younger generation.

  6. • But new graduates were easy to manage in the past? Yes, absolutely. The entire US public education system was designed to make workers more compliant and used to the industrial production system.
    • Who’s accusing them? Just about every major magazine, newspaper, and talking head on TV. A whole generation of workers has these qualities? No, they don’t, but they really are being ACCUSED of being that way. Kind like when MTV just blanket accused 100 million white males of being racist chauvinists.
    • And who doesn’t want a sense of purpose at work? That’s a very recent phenomenon. Did coal miners get a sense of purpose out of providing heat for homes? Did garment makers get a sense of purpose from clothing people? Maybe, but I doubt it.
    • There are lots of different kinds of parents, just as there are lots of different kinds of millennials. Yes, true, but the popular parenting advice of the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s is demonstrably bad. More than a few children have been hamstrung in life by awful advice their parents chose to follow.
    • But you know, at school and at college, you rapidly learn that you can’t have everything you want. Not really. College is becoming more and more a glorified high school. The vast majority of degrees given out each year are basically worthless and professors and school administrators know that. They only pretend like that Medieval French Poetry degree from Sarah Lawrence has any practical value.
    • How many? A lot. Is this really a trend? Absolutely. It’s called grade inflation, and it’s a HUGE issue in public schools and colleges. A C used to mean “average”, but now it means “you’re kind of dumb”.
    • Did participation trophies mess up a whole generation? Undoubtedly. There is scientific, peer-reviewed research on this topic, and not even just a little bit. Not only does it ruin the losers, it actually keeps the winners from trying too.
    • You know, actual abuse and neglect messes up children. Yes, that’s true.
    • Bullying is an actual problem. Yes, that’s also true.
    • But humans are resilient. You can’t kill their desire to succeed with a participation trophy. Yes, you absolutely can. It’s not even difficult.
    • Could the difficulty of finding and keeping a good job in this economy perhaps have something to do with this? No, there are plenty of good jobs in this economy, but all of them require hard work and technical expertise. We import tens of thousands of engineers from India and China every year because we can’t fill demand with American graduates. The low self-esteem is not related to the current state of our economy.
    • It’s also got nothing to do with generations. Yes, it does. This is the first generation to be raised in a Facebook world. They don’t have the necessary life experience to realize that it’s all a façade, as people in their 30’s and 40’s do.
    • 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. It absolutely isn’t. (Also Mad Men is fictional, dude.)The number one predictor of addiction is the size and STRENGTH of your social circle. Facebook may make it seem like we are more connected, but it is severely weakening those interpersonal connections.
    • Not any different from 1990 or 1975. Very much different from even 1990. Romantically, it’s even worse than just making friends. Previously, the most common way to meet a potential partner was through your circle of influence. Now, it’s online. That is a huge problem that is hard to overstate.
    • Really? Absolutely. Pay attention to the now and be present in the moment. If you are with someone, don’t answer or look at your phone. Basic manners, dude.
    • I don’t think mobile phones are the problem if you can’t form relationships. I don’t think you know what you are talking about.
    • How did they complete assignments in college? By writing a paper in 15 minutes? Yes, and that’s part of the problem. College and high school no longer prepare you for a job or the real world at large.
    • And like all humans, they are learning that. They AREN’T learning that, and that’s his point.
    • That’s a pretty broad generalization. But not an unfair or untrue one.
    • They have been this way for decades. It’s been that way for about 4 decades. Sacrificing everything to the Altar of Shareholder Value is a notion that first appeared in the 1980’s. Treating workers as an expendable part of your bottom line is NOT an immutable law of business.
    • As opposed to the previous few generations? Yes. That’s the point.
    • 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. No, you completely missed the point.

      1. How about supported ones?

        link: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-narcissism-epidemic/201308/how-dare-you-say-narcissism-is-increasing

        There have been countless studies carried out for decades on concepts like narcissism and how issues like these are getting worse and worse over time, they are very much “supported,” by entire warehouses full of studies and peer reviewed scientific evidence in general.

        As for generalizations, that’s the entire point, when you’re considering broad, generational issues afflicting society the whole point is in generalizing. I’m sorry if we can’t carry out individual experiments and studies specifically tailored for each and every one of the 7+ billion individuals in the world or 300+ million Americans in the country today, but we do have generalizations we can make to assist us in addressing serious issues to simplify the life around us. Even in the criticisms above you can see the generation wuss, snowflake whine of individuals terrorized by the idea that anyone could possibly ever make a generalization about anything. The same people who rightly have no issue with generalizing problems like climate change, racism, sexism, and the like have serious issues with generalizations whenever it negatively labels something they hold dear. I’ll feign surprise.

        I’ll add this little note to assuage some of the poor hurt feelings of some amongst you: one of the issues with millennials is clearly narcissism, but one of the issues with generation x (mine), was clearly cynicism. This cynicism played a key role in some god awful developments in the aughts including the election of W (his election was definitively assisted by a massive pile of generation x’ers who opted out of voting entirely, or voted for Nader because of the oft cited refrain, “there’s no difference between republicans or democrats,” an attractive argument popularized by Bill Hicks in the nineties and an argument that played a key role in getting W and his VERY VERY DIFFERENT policies in place to disastrous effect throughout the decade (Iraq, Mortgage Crisis, Great Recession, a decade behind in stem cell research, environmental disasters, Enron and the associated disasters that came with allowing corporate polluters and criminals to wreak havoc on the country, notoriously engineering a fraudulent energy crisis in California to help line their pockets which played a key role in bankrupting the state, and a sea of other debacles organized and assisted by people fundamentally hostile to generation x values)).

        Every generation has its issues: boomers were also narcissistic, the 60’s generation talked a big game but didn’t do squat and in the end were also hostile to their own supposed values, generation x did the above, the supposed greatest generation after defeating the Nazi’s and Imperial Japan turned around, and continued celebrating Jim Crow Segregation, often actively fought against, or stalled the efforts of the civil rights movement, and screamed segregation now and segregation forever (and I haven’t even gotten into how hostile to gay’s and women’s equality so many were) and now we have millennial’s and their unique issues.

        Plugging your ears metaphorically and shouting, “you’re generalizing, you’re generalizing!” isn’t going to help anybody. These are real tangible issues, and pretending they don’t exist is a major problem. Colleges are losing alumni funding precisely because of what donors are seeing at places like Yale, Missouri, and the University of Toronto where delusional regressive leftist SJW’s and their half-witted leaders are running rampant, silencing the voices of minorities left and right if they happen to sit on the opposite side of the ideological divide on various social, political, and economic issues.

    1. I’m 22 years old now, and so much of what has been said in this video makes a lot of sense to me. I’m going to graduate at the end of this school year, and I am absolutely terrified. I’ve always been praised for being so clever, and at the age of 18, when I started university, I suddenly woke up to the realisation that I was utterly average. I still managed to get through without having to retake courses. But I find that I suffer from anxiety, cannot deal with any sort of criticism without crying, and I let others do things for me because I am either too lazy or I just don’t know how to do it myself. I have no idea how in the world I’m going to cope with job interviews, interacting with colleagues or receiving any sort of responsibility. The idea keeps me up at night. I am not the only one. Most of my classmates are pessimistic and anxious about finding a job. Many of my friends have even started studying something different after graduating, just so they can put off the terrifying prospect of finding a job a little bit longer. I am telling you, this is really happening. I’m not saying all of us are like this, but it is happening to a lot of us right now. It’s a problem.

      1. No doubt. I see it every year in my students. A lot depends upon your field of study, your connections, your creativity, and your ability to work and communicate collaboratively in an effective fashion. Hopefully you chose a quality major that translates more easily into an occupational track you can enjoy, but regardless remain positive, have faith and do the work you can do, don’t skimp on things that can help you moving forward be it mentors, contacts, internships, anything.

      2. Hi, Eva,
        Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
        Up to a certain point, feeling anxious and afraid is normal and healthy for seniors in college–after all, you are coming up on a major life transition, and trying to anticipate what is on the other side so that you will be ready for it and successful. A certain amount of that is actually healthy.
        If those feelings start taking over your life, though, you should get professional help. Your college may have a counseling resources available, and your student health plan may include some things of that nature–I would encourage you to at least check it out. Make that “strongly encourage”!
        This advice is something that I’ve read before and ignored for years. Last year, I finally admitted that I needed some help and talked to my doctor. I am now getting regular counseling and it has improved my life dramatically.

        Best wishes, etc.,

        C. Lynch

        PS: feel free to ask me more about this or let me know how you’re doing at my gmail address: clynch1961 at youknowwhere.com

    2. It’s fair to say that in some ways the millennials are in some ways better than generation past. But that does nothing to invalidate the critique of helicopter parenting, ubiquitous superficial communication, and the backfiring of some of the efforts to enhance the self-esteem of the children. It’s not “either – or”.

    3. Nate V, I absolutely agree with you.
      Although authorship is debatable, the quote of Einstein saying all models are wrong but some are very useful also applies to stereotyping and generalizations. The generalizations made by Simon are very useful not as an absolute definition of every and any person classifiable as “millenial”, but as an identification of characteristics common to many of such individuals. And, in doing so, in submitting possible explanations and recommendations.
      There was a generation that was strongly marked by the war. The fact that one can find many individuals of that generation with even opposite effects and characteristics does not invalidate an understanding and analysis based on the observation of several common characteristics. At the time of applying the results to a specific group or individual, one needs to validate or correct the generic approach.
      Generally, until my generation it was assumed that success needed to be built over 10, 20 years of hard work and continuous self development. Respect for older people and for hierarchy was losing value but was still strong. The feeling that “I am entitled to the best regardless of having fought hard for it” was not there. Technology was a helper, not an objective and not enslaving. We accepted to spend more time and be more concentrated on one thing (or one person) at a time. We didn’t have less frustrations and challenges than the younger generations but we had less people depending on psychoterapy and antidepressive drugs. Companies and investors accepted longer term objectives, and staying with the same company for many years or life was valued on the employer, the employee and the society sides. We disliked many teachers but we did not felt excused from learning because of their faults. We had to compensate for them. We did not DEMAND gamification as a condition for us to learn. And these characteristics were even more accentuated in my parents generation. We did educate our children with the best intention of giving them better conditions than we had and protecting them from dangers and frustrations as we could. We did assume responsibilities for their lives that our parents did not assume for us and we made them less accountable then we felt at our time.
      There are very noticeably different results, even considering that there is a wide diversity of individuals and groups in each and every generation.
      As a consultant to many companies that employ millenials, I find the analysis proposed by Simon very useful.
      It can help develop basic approaches to people. ANY basic approach must not be just applied across the board, it requires testing against each specific group and, ultimately, to each individual. But this does not diminish the value of the basic approaches.
      The only point I strongly disagree with Simon is that of exempting the “millenials” from any responsibility, saying that parents and corporations have all the guilt and all the responsibility for fixing it.
      We should make an explicit mea culpa for what we well intentioned did wrong but we need to stress to the younger generations that they will have to find the way out of the challenges they received, as we had to find our way out of our challenges.
      In this point Simon is just perpetuating the mistake we did in raising the millenials, not fixing it.

  7. This article is BS, Stop trying to avoid the criticism and take it on board. Their is a narcissist epidemic proven by studies and being a millennial myself I struggle with this disgusting mentality myself and I see it in my peers also. This write up is testament to deflection and argumentative traits that permiate in our generation. Our elders know a shitload more and for that most of them should be respected and listened too. No one likes a snotty nosed brat let alone a generation of snot nosed lazy impatient miserable spoiled brats. That IS who we are. Harden up and make a change, prove him wrong rather then deflect the claims.

  8. I read a lot of defensiveness in this article. Sinek is not making the stuff up; the majority of what he says is being told to him by Millenials; several times he says, “their words, not mine” and then constructs a thesis around those words.
    I work in a high school and see what Sinek is speaking of every day. No, the students are not all addicted to social media, but most who aren’t are addicted to gaming – another insular social activity. There are still book readers and outdoors enthusiasts, but they are very much a minority.
    The blog was interesting for a while, but the method of tearing down complete ideas with simple, unproven assertions (watch Mad Men or people get over things) led to largely whiny and defensive response.

    1. I accept your critique. But when characterizing a whole generation, I think the burden of proof is on the generalizer, not the critic, to back up his facts. I appreciate that you know some millennials like this, but does that mean they’re all like this? Or just most of the ones at your school?

      1. what I take away from Sinek’s presentation is summed up by Barry Oshry “not always, not everyone, but with great regularity …”

        How many people embrace or welcome constructive criticism?

        It is hard to be critically objective about one’s self; that takes time, reflection, perspective, humility, among other things

        This article is simply food for thought. What we choose to do with it is up to us…and no one else. What are the choices you choose to make?

    2. well said- because you can debunk A fact does not or should refute the bulk of the article- There certainly is something different (not wrong) with millennials which deserves more conversation

  9. I find this talk very real. The twenty first generation has surely gone astray and that depicts itself from the sense of entitlement as he puts its out. But worse many people will try to argue against this fact.

  10. While Simon does make a lot of generalizations in his video that are not backed up by scientific or social science data, there are some issues that need to be taken seriously. At Universities across the country the incidence of anxiety, stress, depression and other mental health concerns in our student population is rising significantly. At the University I teach at, approximately 40% of students report that they suffer from anxiety, stress,, depression and/or other mental health issues. And these are only the students that are seen by our mental health professionals. The actual incidence of these problems is far higher. Having taught students for the past 35 years, it is clear that students today are in fact different from their peers 30 years ago. Are they less or more intelligent? No, but social media and the internet has clearly changed the education landscape and the University student of today. Clearly if students with these mental health concerns go on to corporate America without treatment or finding ways to cope with their issues, there will be an impact going forward.

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