Ever since I knew what it actually was, I wanted to study Anthropology. I’m intrigued and romanced by human behaviour. And although my career path lead into Human Resources and not Anthropology, human behaviours are extremely relevant to what I do. Particularly in my work with Millennials. As a result, I nerd out on Anthropology and research whenever I can.
A personal favourite Leadership expert of mine in this field (Millennials) is a guy named Simon Sinek. Sinek has great presence and scores of knowledge on business and the Millennial generations. He was actually one of the ones who planted the seed for wanting to go into bat and create flourishing workplaces for our Australian Millennials. But sometimes even your idols can irk you.
You have probably seen his video on YouTube where he talks about Millennials in the workplace. It’s called, “Simon Sinek on Millennials in the Workplace,” funnily enough. Some of the points Simon makes in this video, upon first, second and thirteenth watch I absolutely loved. At the time I was in a bad place personally and I was like YES! You are right Simon, Millennials are terrible employees, they are hard to manage, they are narcissistic, and they are obsessed with instant gratification. At that time I had just experienced the pain of having 3 Millennial employees all leave within the first 6 months of working for me, I was rather annoyed and took it pretty personally.
However, after some time and the more I’ve researched and worked alongside, and with, Millennials, the more I can’t stand Simon’s stand on Millennials in this video.
There’s a lot to pick through, the video runs for 15mins, and it is full power, straight talking. From the get-go, Simon fires off ideas like a semi-automatic. Which is why I liked him in the first place. He is a great orator!
The problem with a lot of his ideas, however, is while he is looking out for the interests of Millennials––in a way––he is actually patronising their very existence. Watering them down to an idea, or a concept, rather than actually trying to create solutions.
For one, he more than three times uses the term, “an entire generation of…”
I get it, as a motivational speaker you must be an idealist. You must have a point of view and you must back yourself. This is great––for Simon’s objective. But for Millennials, and for those who want to lead Millennials, this is a terrible way to view employees and future leaders.
Sure, there are certain things that entire generations do. Things such as, an entire generation was born post-depression. Or, an entire generation has grown up with fluoride in their water. An entire generation don’t know a time before the internet. These are facts. But to simplify behaviours of an entire generation, and to develop leaderships strategies around that is counter-productive. In the workplace, some won’t fit into that mould. And they might be the future leaders. How are you going to know if you’re generalising an entire generation? Generalisations are dangerous in business. You can’t strategise like this. Especially with an “entire generation”!
Simon also speaks condescendingly of the Millennial generations. As mentioned earlier I admit, when I first saw this video, I had come off the back of a few HR disappointments in my own business involving Millennials––disappointments, might I add that were my fault, not theirs. So, of course, I was right behind Simon’s semi-ire of this generation. But the more I have learned to understand them, the more I am disturbed by his patronising tone.
One particular thing he says that bugs me is, “through no fault of their own they are…”
Which not only takes away agency of an entire generation, but sees him thinning them down to an ideal, again. They are not a result of one action. Millennial behaviours in the workplace are a result of many things, and it’s up to us to work those out and fix them if we don’t like the outcome. Let me remind you, non-Millennials are not the future.
Now, what Simon says it’s not all bad. Simon does make some very valid points. Particularly with Millennials drive for purpose in their careers. This I have found to be very true in all my research. Though, it is not a bad thing like Simon alludes to, and a beanbag and some food vouchers are definitely not going to satiate that drive. Millennials want more, they want to know they are doing something worthwhile. Some may get that in their personal lives or side-hustles, some may aspire to get that at work.
In short, contrary to some of the most convincing generalisation, as leaders, it’s our responsibility to decipher what our employees want, what makes them tick, what will get them moving. Not generalise and patronise. By getting to know Millennials in the workplace and understand them, we will not only have happier, more productive teams. We will better feed our own business objectives and create sustainable futures for our companies––which they will be the leaders of very soon.