The Millennial Question: Pampered or Passionate?

“Millennials are lazy, entitled narcissists who still live with their parents. They are the ‘me, me, me’ generation.”

“Millennials have trouble making decisions. They would rather hike the Himalayas than climb the corporate ladder.”
“Millennials were ruined by an up-bringing filled with participation trophies. They haven’t been prepared for the real world.”

Sound familiar?

The debate surrounding millennials in the workplace has been unrelenting over the past couple years. The conversation seemingly reached a fever pitch around the time Simon Sinek’s talk ‘The Millennial Question’ went viral, last year. During the interview, Simon explains, “Apparently millennials as a generation are tough to manage. They are accused of being entitled, narcissistic, self interested, unfocused and lazy.”

He continues on to break this understanding down into four main causes: parenting, technology, impatience and environment. He speaks to failed parenting tactics of millennials being repeatedly told they are ‘special’ and that they can have anything they want in life, just because they want it. He spoke to the infamous participation trophies, and the negative implications of rewarding the act of coming in last.

So, when millennials are thrust into the real world following University graduation, we don’t stand a chance. We are struck with the sudden realization that we aren’t special, that there’s no rewards for last place and that our parent’s can’t get us the job or promotion we want, just because we want it. Just like that, our carefully coddled identity and self esteem is shattered. And then of course, thanks to the world of social media, we throw an Instagram filter over our life to make it seem like we’ve got it all figured out (even though we don’t).

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

While there were elements of Simon’s talk that resonated with me, there were also parts which I found to be incredibly frustrating. Quite frankly, I’m tired of millennials getting such a bad rap. I think, as a society, we love to complain about the generations before or after us, without offering solutions or looking to understand the shifts in generational dynamics that are unfolding before our eyes.

millennial-workAre millennials really just pampered, or are we passionate? Are we tough to manage, or are we inspiring meaningful change to the way organizations work? Did participation trophies effectively ruin all 75.4 million of us?

First and foremost, it’s important to understand that millennials are the largest living generation. By 2020, nearly half the working population will be made up of millennials. We’re also the founders of Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest, Quora, Dropbox, Lyft, Tinder, Tumblr, Blue Apron, and thousands of other websites, apps, services, and tech companies that have taken the world by storm. And the odds haven’t necessarily been stacked in our favour. Sure, many of us grew up with no shortage of advantages or privileges. But we’ve also come to face mounting student loans, higher rent and sometimes impossible mortgage payments (if we get that far), and an increasingly competitive job market rife with unpaid internships or entry-level positions lacking any leadership development or progression opportunities. Our path isn’t exactly without it’s own modern obstacles.

We, as a generation, are often touted as disloyal within the workforce, but is that really the case?

Is it a matter of disloyalty, or a movement away from antiquated notions that we have to sacrifice passion, purpose and professional fulfillment for corporate security, within jobs that don’t inspire us? Call me idealistic if you want, but I think there’s something to be said about a generation of people who are looking for a deeper connection with their career path. Sure, there might be individuals who take this to extremes and hole-up in their parent’s basement until they’re 35 while they wait for the ‘perfect’ job to fall into their lap, but I don’t find that to be the ruling circumstance.

Using my own professional experience as an example, I’m 24 years old and I’ve adjusted my career path 3 times. Was I living off my parents during this time? No. Did I ever up and quit a job I wasn’t particularly satisfied with before creating another, better opportunity for myself? No. Was I burning professional bridges and leaving employer’s feeling as though I had betrayed them or wasted their time? No. Did I feel as though I was simply entitled to (my version of) the perfect job? No. I knew that if I wanted it, I had to put in the work.

Demanding more from your career than simply collecting paycheques doesn’t necessarily make us entitled or professionally reckless. In fact, a recent report by the HRPA on Canadian millennials in the workplace found, millennials are perhaps one of the most misunderstood generations in recent history. It found that millennials want the same things in life and work as preceding generations — they’re just more likely to speak up about what they want and are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve their goals. Millennials recognize the importance of a fulfilling career path, just as much as they see a need for a healthy work-life balance.

Millennials are also chastised for our dependence on technology. Now, let me level with you here. I absolutely agree that technology often consumes our day-to-day attention far more than it should, and that social media can have incredibly negative effects on self-esteem and our ability to be ‘present’ and un-plug. When it comes to our access to technology, it’s ever-important to find a healthy balance of use (and recognize misuse).

However, when it pertains to the workplace, our experience with technology should not be seen as a hinderance, but as an advantage. 

We are the first generation to grow up with the internet. We are a wealth of knowledge pertaining to consumer behaviour in the digital age because more often than not, we are the consumer. And we know (and use) the technology better than anyone. We also adapt to new technology and interfaces quickly, and have an open mind to cutting-edge methodologies in the workplace because we grew up in a time of continuous, rapid change. We think outside the box. We were made for this.

Not only that, but studies show that millennials actually value company culture more than any other generation that’s come before them. Basically, we are demanding more of our employers; not necessarily in terms of pay, but in terms of support and empowerment. On average, millennials would be willing to give up $7,600 in salary every year to work at a job that provided a better environment for them.

Then comes the element of corporate social responsibility. Despite our reputation as a self-absorbed generation, millennials are shown as being willing to spend more with brands that support causes they care about. This makes for more conscious brand strategies, while millennials also encourage the progressive deviation from previous, rigid corporate moulds regarding race, culture, religion, sexual orientation and political beliefs.

Sure, we may have our quirks and play a role in some less-than-groundbreaking societal contributions (fidget spinners I’m looking at you). But I think it’s worth shifting the conversation away from millennials being a threat to the workforce, to instead consider the ways in which we are actually trying to improve it with passionate endeavours, technological advancement and heightened focus on company culture, a health work-life balance and social responsibility.