Millennials – plus ca change, la meme chose

It is very interesting to read recent posts from Frank Clayton and Charlie Walker-Wise about millennials’ attitudes and values.  Their remarks make valuable contributions to the rolling discussion about this demographic, which seems to me to be often unfairly slighted for being work-shy, recalcitrant and pessimistic.

People’s behaviours

If that is how their behaviours are observed by older generations, then I suggest they should turn the mirror on themselves.  Why?  Because it is their behaviours, especially those of my age group and gender, that have caused the situation that gives rise to the millennials’ behaviours they criticise.

This goes back to a foundational theory of the organisational psychology school.  Kurt Lewin’s environment formula that states behaviour to be a function of personality and situation, or B = f (P + S).   Our society in 2018 requires youngsters to confront all sorts of demands and expectations that are more pernicious than I recall facing in my teenage years and early 20s during the 1970s and 80s.

As Frank remarks, first and foremost this large group of young adults are  people.  Physically and psychologically, people haven’t changed markedly for aeons.  Yes, in the western world, we may be taller and fatter.  We may be witnessing some change to physiognomy in hand musculature, which is arising from using thumbs to type on mobile phone and tablet screens.  As Doctor Spock might remark in Star Trek, we remain carbon life forms.

Psychologically, fundamentals such as the Big 5 trait theory, remains reliable and valid.  Go back to the characters in Shakespeare’s plays, Machiavelli or Sun Tzu, and you can find decent, honourable people as well as complete shi*ts, just as you do today.  Considering the Big 5, perhaps there is greater incidence of “neuroticism”, be that more narcissists or those who feel cowed by sensing they don’t meet societal expectations.  For instance, I recall an article that stated young people, especially girls, feel downhearted if a social media post gets fewer than two dozen “likes”.

The scourge of education

As Charlie remarks, the work-space is now home to millennials and, increasingly, will be to the post-millennials as they tumble out of the sausage machine of our didactic exam-factory education system.  The likes of Sir Ken Robinson criticise our pass / fall approach because it overlooks the importance of fostering creativity, problem solving, critical inquiry, collaboration, favouring STEM over the arts.  If you haven’t got a stream of As or A stars, you’re screwed.  If you don’t go to university and saddle yourself with debt for a second rate qualification from a third-rate college, you’re screwed squared.

We look east for inspiration to improve our educational performance.  We  seek to emulate Singapore which, personally, I don’t regard as a representative or replicable model.  This article from the Economist, see, a couple of weeks ago suggests Singapore, too, recognises some of its shortcomings.  It is working to adapt and improve.  (The article’s closing remarks about teachers’ pay is another debate all together!)

Is technology the answer?

A report just issued by IBM, see, sets out some important points about the role of the senior HR leaders in making more innovative and effective use of technology to make the work environment more compelling, inclusive and involving.  These are very contemporary words yet, like Lewin mentioned earlier, they are long-standing characteristics of healthy work environments that were established over 50 years ago.

The words distinguish not “culture” but “organisational climate” because they reflect how (Frank’s) people feel about working where they do.  In a business of 100 people where the youngsters anticipate moving within three years, the cost of managing that turnover is immense.  That expense is not value-adding unless, of course, those that leave are replaced by stronger talent.  If that then walks it becomes an exercise akin to a puppy chasing its tail.

A report from M&C Saatchi last year, see about post-millennials’ attitudes highlights a massive issue that goes back to the point I made earlier about education.  These teenagers have lost the sense of fun in learning.  How then do you offer a compelling learning curriculum, one that hasn’t been commoditised to a flat two-dimensional “read this”, “listen to this”, “watch this” e-learning course?

I was fortunate in the early years of my career at Barclays Bank to do my learning at marvellous bank-owned training centres on the edge of Wimbledon Common (a great pub next door) or in the heart of Ashdown Forest (terrific bar in the basement).

The learning experience was highly effective (and measurable, too).


Virtual learning environments (VLEs) offer a differential and exciting approach to creating “places” in which learning as effective as I experienced can be delivered by highly proficient trainers.  While these virtual venues may not provide access to significant quantities of very pleasant “adult beverages”, they do provide spaces in which new knowledge can be practised safely and without incremental cost.

As technologies progress so the sensorial quality of the simulations will become deeper and broader.  The learning curve to proficiency in complex physical tasks or deft communication and engagement can be shortened; benefits arising from that proficiency will be gained sooner so any higher up-front investment will be paid back more quickly, and a positive ROI generated.

And, to answer M&C Saatchi’s finding, they’re FUN!

Feedback is a gift

Charlie makes the point about millennials’ need for constant and consistent feedback, which likely arises from having been continuously tested through their education.  Leaders need to gain the skills and behaviours to conduct these conversations at the right time, in the right way and the right place (not necessarily sat across the desk from each other).

An old adage from the world of customer service states that “feedback is a gift”.  It applies as much, if not more, in the sphere of the employee.  Indeed, in the past few days I have read a few pieces as well as Charlie’s about creating a great work experience for employees.  While it is now a shadow of its former self, this seminal Harvard article about US retailer, Sears, set the train of thought running about the Employee-Customer- Profit chain, see

I have no doubt Charlie’s use of theatre derived training can help develop and nurture high quality engagement skills.  I recall a course that took place in a little theatre in the Cotswold at which the actress Yvonne Gilan, who famously played the flirty French guest in an episode of Fawlty Towers, led a session about communication.

The meritorious millennials

Likewise, I would commend some of the “reverse mentoring” conducted by Martina Buchal, who is a Canadian lady now based in Lyons, France, see her profile on LinkedIn at

I met Martina when she was an ambassador for World Merit (see, a marvellous social entrepreneurs’ network led out of Liverpool by Chris Arnold.  Here is an organisation that dispels all criticism of millennials’ lackadaisicalness.  The network comprises many thousands striving to drive change associated with the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Goals.

If you want to see a values-driven enterprise being propelled forward with urgency, determination and positive belief, look no further.  This year’s cohort have just presented to UK parliament and organisations such as PwC.  Likewise, if you’re not a millennial but want to develop a more empathetic understanding of their mores and world view, get in touch with Martina.

In 2016, 360 “meriteers” travelled to the US, many from countries subsequently blocked by Trump’s appalling visa restrictions.  They presented to the United Nations, electrifying their audience.  Prior to their “gig” at the UN, the meriteers stayed at a US summer camp, which was on Native American land.  Two Native American quotes remain as valid today as they did when they were first conceived for millennials and post-millennials, and, perhaps, more so, their managerial generation X-ers and remaining baby boomers.

The first is the great law of the Iroquois confederation, “In our every deliberation we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.”  That knocks quarterly reporting into a cocked hat.

And from the Chief Seattle of the Suquamish and Duwamish tribes, “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors—we borrow it from our children”.  Sorry, millennials and post-millennials, we have been poor stewards.

And, to close, the delicate beauty of “earthrise”.

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