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The problem with managing Millennials

Updated: Mar 18, 2022

While the millennial accounts for 34% of the workforce in the UK – current workplace structures are tailored to previous generations, which leads to generational conflict and the loss of motivation among the millennial population. This article is focused on examining that. It is largely structured around a transcript of an interview with the brilliant Simon Sinek, with adapted parts to fit this blog, and to add my own overlay.


So what is the problem with the Millennial ?

Apparently Millennials, as a generation – which is a group of people who were born after 1981 and before 2000, are tough to manage. They’re accused of being entitled, narcissistic, self-interested, unfocused, and lazy. Entitled is the big one though - and, because they confound leadership so much, what’s happening is leaders are asking the Millennial: “What do you want?”, and Millennials are saying:

“We want to work in a place with purpose”

- haha really ?;

“We want to make an impact.”

- whatever that means;

“We want free food, and bean bags.”

And so… Somebody articulates some sort of made up purpose. There’s lots of free food and there’s bean bags, and yet for some reason, they are still not happy. That is because there’s a missing piece. What I’ve learned is I can break Millennial personalities down into four pieces / four things / four characteristics. One is parenting, the second one is technology, third is patience, and the fourth is environment.

 

Parenting

The generation, that we call Millennials, were told that they were special… all the time, they were told that they can have anything they want in life, just because they want it.

The generation, that we call the Millennials, too many of them grew up subject to, "failed parenting strategies". The Generation X that created these young people, are in my opinion wholly responsible for any issues. We created it, therefore we need to accept responsibility. So, for example, we would tell our children that they were special… all the time, we told them that they can have anything they want in life, just because they want it. Some millennials got into better, higher level classes, not because they deserved it, but because their gen X parents complained - then ultimately some of them got better reports and grades; not because they earned them through hard work, but because the teachers were not empowered to deal with their parents. Children of this generation were the first to receive participation awards. They would get an award for coming last. It is outrageous - and the science around this subject is pretty clear. Rewarding somebody just for taking part, devalues the award as a whole and then as a result devalues the reward for those who actually worked hard. That actually makes the person who comes in last feel embarrassed, because they know they didn’t deserve the award - so it actually makes them feel worse. Completely counteractive to its initial intention.

An entire generation that’s growing up with lower self-esteem than previous generations.

So, you take this group of people, and they finish education, and they get a job. They’re thrust into the real world, and in an instant they find out they’re not special. They find that their parents can’t get them a promotion; that you get nothing for coming in last and, by the way, you can’t just have it because you want it. In an instant, their entire self-image is shattered. We create a monster, we have created an entire generation that’s growing up with lower self-esteem than previous generations.



Technology

The second piece to compound this, is that we’re growing up in a social media World. In other words, we’re good at putting filters on things. We’re good at showing people that life is totally amazing, even though we may be depressed. Everybody sounds mentally tough, and everybody sounds like they have got this life thing all worked out. The reality however, is there’s very little toughness, and most people don’t have life worked out at all. When the more senior people say “Well, what should we do then?” they reply “This is what you've got to do!” when in reality - they have not got a clue.

An entire generation growing up with lower self-esteem than previous generations through no fault of their own. They were dealt a bad hand.

So you have an entire generation growing up with this lower self-esteem than previous generations, through no fault of their own. They were dealt a bad hand.


Then we add in technology.


We know that engagement with social media, and our electronic equipment releases a chemical called dopamine. That’s why when you get a text it feels good. We’ve all been there, when you’re feeling a little bit down or feeling a bit lonely, you send out a text to a friend, because it feels good when you get a response. It’s why we count the likes It’s why we go back ten times to see if social media followers are growing, its why we interact with Google, or on gaming with strangers - its why we shop online... when we do these things, we get a hit of dopamine - which feels so so good. That's why we keep going back to these machines for company.

You know, this young adult thing, if it gets you down… you can always grab a fag, pour yourself a shot and get drunk

Dopamine is the exact same chemical that makes us feel good when we smoke, when we drink, and when we gamble. In other words, It’s highly, highly addictive. We have age restrictions on smoking, gambling and alcohol, and yet we have no enforceable age restrictions on social media, mobile phones or other online activity. Which is the equivalent of opening up the drinks cabinet and saying to our Millennials “You know, this young adult thing, if it gets you down… you can always grab a fag, pour yourself a shot and get drunk”. Sounds like a complete nonesense doesn't it - but that’s really what is happening. We have an entire generation that has access to an addictive numbing chemical called dopamine, through social media, mobile phones and online activity - just as they’re going through the high level of stress caused by adolescence and being a young adult.


Why is this important? Almost every alcoholic discovered alcohol when they were teenagers. When we’re very, very young the only approval we need is the approval of our parents, and as we go through adolescence we make this transition to where we now need the approval of our peers. This is very frustrating for our parents, yet very important for us. It’s a highly, highly stressful and anxious period of our lives; and we are supposed to learn to rely on our friends. Some people, quite by accident, discover alcohol, and the numbing effects of dopamine, to help them cope with the stresses and anxieties of adolescence. Unfortunately, that becomes hardwired in their brains and, for the rest of their lives, when they suffer significant stress they will not turn to a person they will turn to the bottle. Social stress, financial stress, career stress. That’s pretty much the primary reasons why an alcoholic drinks.


What’s happening is, because we’re allowing unchecked access to these dopamine producing devices and media, it’s becoming hardwired. What we’re seeing is, that as kids now grow older, too many don’t know how to form deep meaningful relationships. They will admit that many of their friendships are superficial. They will admit that they don’t count on their friends, they don’t rely on their friends. They do however have fun with their friends. They also know that their friends will cancel on them when something better comes along. Deep meaningful relationships are not there because they never practice the skill set, and worse they don’t have the coping mechanisms to deal with stress.


So when significant stress starts to show up in their lives they’re not turning to a person, they’re turning to a machine, they’re turning to social media, they’re turning to these electronic faceless devices - the things that offer temporary relief. We know, that people who spend the most time in an invisible World online, will suffer higher rates of depression than the people that spend less time. As with all these things, in moderation is entirely ok - Alcohol itself is not bad, but too much alcohol is extremely bad. Gambling is fun, too much gambling is dangerous. There’s nothing wrong with social media, mobile phones and online environments. It’s the imbalance that is dangerous. If you’re sitting at dinner with your friends, and you’re texting somebody who’s not there - then that is a real problem, that is in itself, an addiction. If you’re sitting in a meeting, with real people you’re supposed to be interacting with, and you put your phone on the table, that sends the subconscious message to the room that they are just not that important to you. That’s what happens, and the fact that you cannot put it away, is because you are addicted. If you wake up and you check your phone before you say good morning to your girlfriend, boyfriend or spouse, you have an addiction, and like all addictions, in time it will destroy relationships. It will cost time, it will cost money, and it will make your life worse. I am really sad to say, that I put myself in this category, usually because I am awake first - but as I write this blog now - I intend to change that. From now on, I will make sure that when my other half wakes up, she gets my attention, and the electronic device goes down, until we have greeted the day together.


In summary, we have a whole generation growing up with lower than average self-esteem, that doesn’t have the intrinsic coping mechanisms to deal with the stresses of real life.


Patience

Now you add in the sense of impatience. The Millennial has grown up in a world of instant gratification. You want to buy something? You go on Amazon; it arrives the next day. You want to watch a movie? Netflix - watch your movie. You don’t check movie times. You want to watch your TV show? Binge watch it. You don’t even have to wait week to week to week anymore. I know people who skip seasons just so they can binge at the end of the season. Instant gratification is part of the modern World. You want to go on a date? You don’t even have to learn how to chat to somebody anymore, you don't have to make any effort, you don’t even have to learn and practice that interaction skill. You don’t have to be uncomfortable. You don’t have to have human interaction at all - just swipe right. Bang, I’m a f***ing stud don't you know!


Then when you do meet up, you don't have the awkwardness of parents, you simply text from the top of the road...


You no longer have to learn the social coping mechanisms. Everything you want you can have instantaneously. Everything you want, has instant gratification. Everything that is, except for job satisfaction, and strength of relationships - because there are no apps to help with that. They are slow, meandering, uncomfortable, messy processes.


So I keep meeting these wonderful, fantastic, idealistic, hard-working smart Millennials. They are recent graduates, and they are quite naturally in an entry-level job.

 

I ask them "Hows your job going ?" and they may reply something like; "I hate it, I can't make an impact, it isn't what I want to do".

 

"You have been there 6 months..."


It’s as if they are standing at the foot of a mountain, and they have this abstract concept called impact that they want to have in the World, which is at the summit. What they don’t see is the mountain between. They don't see it because in every other walk of life they don't need to see it - in every other walk of life the mountain is removed, replaced with instant gratification. Now, I don’t care if you go up the mountain quickly or slowly, there’s still a mountain to climb, so get your boots on and settle in for the climb.


So what this millennial generation need to learn is patience. They need to learn that the things that really really matter in life, like love, or job fulfilment, joy, love of life, self-confidence - it is a skill set. Any or all of these things take time to achieve. Sometimes you can expedite pieces of it, but the overall journey… is arduous and long and difficult. If you don’t ask for help and learn that skill set, you will fall off the mountain, and never achieve that fulfilment.


The endgames to this scenario is what we are now seeing. There has been a substantial increase in suicide rates in this Millennial generation. We are seeing an increase in accidental deaths owing to drug overdose. We are seeing more and more people drop out of University or take sabatticals, owing to depression.


What we created is an entire population growing up and going through life and never really finding joy. They will never really find deep fulfilment in work or in life. They will just meander through life, and life wil be just, “fine”. Those important ambitions in life become less relevant as the expectations fall, and the questions about their job and even worse relationships are answered with "It’s fine".


Environment

We are taking this amazing group of young fantastic people who were just dealt a bad hand, it’s no fault of their own. We put them in corporate environments that care more about the numbers than they do about the people. They care more about the short-term gains than the long-term life of this human being, they care more about this year than the lifetime.


We are putting them in these corporate environments that aren’t helping them build their confidence. That aren’t helping them learn the skills of cooperation. That aren’t helping them overcome the challenges of a digital world and find more balance. This isn’t helping them overcome the need to have instant gratification and teach them the joys, the impact and the fulfilment you get from working hard on something for a long time that cannot be done in a month or even in a year.


The worst part about it is they think it’s them. They blame themselves. They think it’s them who can’t deal with life and so it makes it all worse. It’s not. It’s the corporations. It’s the corporate environments, it’s the total lack of good leadership in our world today. That is making them feel the way they do. They were dealt a bad hand and it’s the leaders responsibility suck it up and realise that we have no choice, but to accommodate and accept the need fir change - either that or we should resign ourselves to ignoring 34% of our workforce. Which would not be a particularly long term leadership strategy.


So this is what we have - I wish that society and also my generation as their parents did a better job, but they didn’t. So we have this workforce in our businesses, and we have to pick up the slack. We have to work extra hard ourselves to work out the ways that we build their confidence. We have to work extra hard to find ways to teach them the social skills that they are missing.


Relationships are formed by conversing, asking personal questions and getting personal responses. Trust forms by offering personal help and giving advice with a good heart on a personal level. Trust doesn’t form at an event, in a day, even bad times don’t form trust immediately. It’s about slow, steady, consistency - we have to create mechanisms where we allow for those little innocuous interactions to happen.


We now have a responsibility to make up the shortfall and to help this amazing, idealistic, fantastic generation build their confidence, learn patience, learn the social skills, and find a much, much better balance between life and technology.


Quite frankly, it’s the right thing to do.




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