Millennials – hopeless or different?
By Jon Michail
They’re different. Even the experts can’t agree on their defining characteristics. About the only thing they do agree on is that we’re talking about the children born from the early 1980s to the mid-1990s or early 2000s. They’re generally the children of baby boomers and older Generation X adults, sometimes referred to as Generation Y, or “Echo Boomers” due to a major surge in birth rates in the 1980s and 1990s.
There is so much written about this group that has kept my on-going attention. Why? Because I’m a father of two Gen Xers and share my observations from a father’s perspective not an “expert’s”.
No matter what country they live in, their descriptions are pretty unflattering. The Chinese call them ken lao zu, or “the generation that eats the old”, because they say many live like parasites off their parents. In the traditional Chinese view, it is the responsibility and obligation of parents to take care of their children, no matter how old they are. Even so, it comes as a surprise to learn that 70% of young people in China think nothing of asking their parents to give them money to buy a house.
The Japanese say millennials can’t give anything their undivided attention. They’re nagara-zoku, “the people who are always doing two things at once”. In Germany, they’re “Generation Maybe”, well educated, highly connected, multilingual, globally minded, with myriad opportunities ahead of them. Unfortunately, they’re so overwhelmed by the possibilities available to them that they commit to nothing.
Swedish millennials are the “curling generation”, named for the sport in which teammates smooth the ice in front of their stone to make sure its journey is unobstructed. Critics say that the parents of millennials remove all obstacles from their children’s paths, don’t set boundaries, and defend them to teachers who try to discipline them.
Many millennials have been shaped by the economic circumstances particular to their country, whether it’s debt (the US), unemployment ( Spain and Greece), or an inability to buy housing (Australia and New Zealand).
In Australia, where the freestanding home on the quarter-acre block has long been the expectation of young people, many are now locked out of the housing market. While it took about four times the median household income to buy a home in Sydney in 1975, it now takes 12 times. For all aspiring home owners, Sydney is second only to Hong Kong as having the most unaffordable housing on earth.
No wonder millennials are different. In many countries around the world they’ve had to experience serious economic downturns. They’ve grown up through a severe financial crisis, have come to view rapid technological change as the norm, and are more plugged into a global network than their parents. It’s hardly surprising millennials and their predecessors each believe the other group doesn’t understand the realities of life. And who could argue with that?
Although many more of them have tertiary degrees and are versed in the digital environment, they have spent countless hours in online worlds where they make their own rules and don’t learn the social conventions that are still expected of them. Add to that the fact that budget cuts and restructuring have forced schools to change curriculum and cut courses like home economics and consumer science. Today’s fast-paced lives are not the best for helping millennials to achieve the soft skills of their predecessors.
A myriad of experts and academics believe that millennials lack the basic interpersonal skills necessary for employment and simply getting on with other people. The essential life skills such as critical thinking and problem solving, the arts of conversation and maintaining relationships have taken a dive, meaning that many millennials are socially inadequate.
Maybe the soft skills are the real ‘hard’ skills we should be teaching as a first call…. but I digress and will come back to this subject in the form of an article sometime in the future.
The Huffington Post noted that “We’ve created a generation of doctors, lawyers and accountants who don’t know how to cook dinner. The disconnect is stark – minds capable of advanced calculus that are unfamiliar with creating a monthly budget.”
A study of millennials in the workplace by researchers at the University of California observed that young adults are “unusually and extraordinarily confident” in their abilities. They “seek key roles in significant projects soon after their entry into the organisation. They want to skip the entry level, junior roles and go into middle management and the like, but they lack the skills needed when they get there.”
That’s quite a generalisation. True, many millennials are not willing to settle for mediocre careers. As a baby boomer I empathise with them. Why follow all the misleading advice told verbatim to past generations that led them to dead-end careers and unfulfilling lives.
Can you blame them?
Why take the stairs when you can take the elevator. But many work under precarious contracts and part-time hours while paying huge rents and out of control student debt. When work no longer guarantees security, they believe it should at least be fulfilling.
Millennials also believe they work smarter. Why be glued to a desk for eight hours when they can answer emails and start drafting notes during their commute into work, or even in a cafe? Older bosses are particularly difficult to convince about this – to them, it’s just skiving off.
It’s interesting, therefore, to note that according to research by Pew Research Centre, a US think tank, a poll found that 59% of 18- to 34-year-olds described their generation as self-absorbed, 49% as wasteful, and 43% as greedy. In addition, only 36% of millennials see themselves as hardworking and 24% see themselves as responsible.
Australia’s millennials feel particularly depressed about their future. The new Deloitte 2017 Millennial Survey shows the youth of Australia are feeling unhappy and frustrated by the way the country is being run. A shocking 92% believe they will be financially worse off than their parents. Make no mistake, this is already happening.
One in five Australian millennials are working, but they want to be working more hours. However, they simply can’t find them in this economy. They face a future of increasingly insecure work. Jobs are increasingly hard to come by and those jobs that are available are increasingly part-time or casual. But that sort of work has little or no security, often difficult working conditions and as for a loan from the bank…
How can we help our young people? While we’ve enjoyed decades of peace and prosperity, the future is looking grim for many. The millennials are nervous and pessimistic about their future; they feel they’ll never be as financially secure as their parents and that the world is getting worse because of terrorism, climate change, increasing automation and crime.
The nation needs to turn that pessimism around and authentically work to give the young a better go. Politicians and leaders need to show that they can and will address those concerns by empowering them, not creating more “I feel sorry for myself” victims. All leaders need to put humanity first and be an example to our younger generations by being “fair dinkum” for once.
In the meantime the millennials can start with defining (or re-defining) themselves by looking inward to get clarity about who they authentically are.
They can re-visit their identity and find their true power, one of purpose and mission underpinned by personal values to shape themselves for an exciting future.
They can unleash their creativity and transform their spirits to live a life worth living. It can all be done through personal responsibility, targeted mentorship and some real world life-learning, typically not found in our factory / industrial influenced mass education system.
Statistics illustrate only a small percentage of people will take the real action to fully transform their lives, I’m confident we can change this.
If they don’t, is the future all too predictable?
Jon Michail and his team at Image Group International partner with their clients to achieve breakthrough results with contrarian and disruptive ways to grow and monetise their personal and business brands. A veteran coach with a Who’s Who clientele, Jon is the CEO and Founder of Image Group International, an Australian-based corporate and personal brand image advisory and coaching organisation that conducts transformational seminars, workshops and one-on-one coaching in over four continents. He is recognised as Australasia’s No. 1 Image Coach.