Millennials in the Workplace – A Lost Generation or The Generation of Hope?

Leadership spokesperson Simon Sinek claims failed parenting strategies, social media, the environment, and their own impatience have failed Millennials*. They suffer low self-esteem, a lack of social skills to build trust and intimacy, an inability to feel joy and satisfaction, an increased incidence of suicide, an increased number of deaths by drug overdose, and higher levels of school drop out as a result.

Wow, does it suck to be them or what?

That may have been your reaction after watching his Youtube** video. I believe that Millennials deserve a better rap than calling them a failed generation. Here’s why…

SIMON SAYS: “Millennials have been dealt a bad hand”

REALITY RESET: Young people have never had such a strong start in life. In the past it was very common for a parent to die of disease, at war, or in childbirth, leaving behind uncertainty and instability for children. And everyone pretty much was poor, so children went hungry, cold, or unable for various reasons to stay in school. The Millennials are the inheritors of a wealth that in the past was only experienced by a very few. They have more of everything than any generation, ever.

SIMON SAYS: “Millennials suffer from low self-esteem”

REALITY RESET: Millenials have received a great deal of early life encouragement, and as a result developed an enviable self-confidence that previous generations of children did not posses. In the past, barriers existed everywhere. Children had to handle social situations bred from entrenched social, sexual, religious and racial discrimination. This was humiliating, abusive, intimidating, physically dangerous, and pre-empted the development of self-confidence early in life, or ever at all for some. More realistically, Millennials can experience a “correction” to their self-perception when they enter the workplace and realize they have inflated perceptions of themselves. However this is a short-term disorientation, a snag along the road of life. It’s the new part of growing up, the 21st century version. Their self-esteem will recover.

SIMON SAYS: “The parents of Millennials are guilty of failed parenting strategies”

REALITY RESET: Boomers, who are generally the parents of Millennials were poignantly aware of poor childrearing practices in the past. Namely, how they or their parents were raised. They strove to create a more nurturing and supportive environment for their children. They communicated more with their kids, dads spent more time with their kids, families did more things together than previous generations. Each generation tries to better provide for their families, and this generation is no different. These families were living in a time of economic expansion, social disruption, erosion of traditional institutions, the rise of consumerism and globalization, the invention of the internet and the expansion of social media. Millennials grew up in a time of rapid-fire change coming at them from many directions, and that has created whole new scenarios for which the rules have not yet been written. Their parents faced a highly dynamic social environment in which they were raising kids.

SIMON SAYS: “There is a total lack of leadership in our corporate world today”

REALITY RESET: Corporate leadership strategies and corporate culture are more evolved, respectful, inclusive, supportive, and engaging than ever before. We’ve come a long way from the days of Mad Men, Death of a Salesman, or Charles Dickens. In fact these terms were berthed in the 1960’s and have been constantly evolving in sophistication. Today’s leaders are providing “free food and beanbags” and dogs at work, as the latest popular workspace trends, thanks to Millennials who observed their over-extended and under-thanked working parents and decided that there was a better way. The impact that Millennials are having on their workplaces is a response to injustices they saw in their parents work lives.

SIMON SAYS: “Millennials will be a generation who never experience Joy”

REALITY RESET: It is extremely unfair to send a message that robs Millennials of hope or joy. In his role as author, speaker, and consultant who writes on leadership Simon Sinek fails in his leadership responsibility to offer hope, focusing instead it seems on his desire to promote his next book.

So for those Millennials who feel rather crest-fallen and disenfranchised by the world you’re inheriting after watching Mr. Sinek’s video, here is the hope and perspective that he didn’t share with you. …

Life is a journey with setbacks. Today, however, it’s so much easier to find answers and strategies for dealing with the tough times. Tough is not bad. It’s normal and when you handle it responsibly you will develop character and resilience. The most successful people in life develop good habits and self-discipline, which become the foundation for success over time. Here is a roadmap for you to get started on your own path to joy, professional success and a whole lot more …

1. Take time to understand your own existential dilemma. In other words reflect on who you are, what are your burning questions about life.

2. Read and heed. Let me share an anecdote. I have a Millennial friend who impressed me a few years ago with her broad knowledge with how she was perceived as a Millennial by older people around her. She’d done a lot of reading, and her knowledge gave her objectivity about her own experience and perceptions, and had a grounding influence on her. By the way, she is enjoying a very successful career, and has shot up the corporate ladder. Her self-awareness and willingness to be coached have no doubt helped her immensely along the way. Do lots of reading so you become knowledgeable about your generation, and the other generations, older and younger. This will provide you perspective, to develop better communication strategies with your boss, peers, and social circles. Remember, one day you may be a boss too. Plan to be a good one.

3. Take your learning and insights to the next level with an honest self-assessment and goal setting. What are your strengths, what things do you need to work on to get a promotion at work within the next 24 months (keep the timeline short, and don’t be impatient)? Are your circle of friends going to be supportive of your evolution? Do some house cleaning if necessary so you’re in a supportive environment, and then check in with yourself on how you’re doing against your goals, monthly. Make a monthly “date” with yourself to see how you’re doing.

4. Developing your character is one of the most important things you can do. We live in a superficial, consumption-oriented and fast changing world, surrounded in the media by examples of really bad people who are celebrated like heroes, poorly resolved corporate ethics infractions, and nobody is talking about character. Do we even know what it is any more? This is most certainly a failing of today’s media. Make developing your character your most important personal goal, and like faith, practice it daily.

5. Work on your emotional intelligence. This will help you to handle conflict and self-doubt better, and to enjoy your relationships more. Start by reading up on what it is, take some of those free online quizzes, so that you get to know yourself better. Self-knowing is an important component in developing self-confidence. This is where you see yourself realistically, with no expectations of perfection, but knowing that you’re good at some things and not good at others.

6. Be patient. And be kind to yourself. Being kind to yourself does not mean eating that tub of ice cream in the freezer. It means taking care of yourself. Reduce your social media, drink less, eat better, exercise more, and sleep enough. A strong body feeds a strong mind.

7. Unplug, completely. Find some quiet time each day and each week where you do absolutely nothing. Maybe go for a walk, or sit and relax in the garden. Leave yourself with your thoughts. Turn off your cell phone. Explore the deeper meaning of you.

8. Work on your relationships, and especially the relationship you have with your parents. They’re on your side; treat them respectfully while they are still around.

We live in a tremendously exciting time, with more opportunity than ever before to live full and satisfying lives, to be educated, to develop and define ourselves, and make a meaningful contribution to our world. Chances are your glass is more than half full. So go for it!

* Millennials – those born 1984 – 1995
** “Millennials in the Workplace” Simon Sinek interview with Tom Bilyeu