millennials in the workplace

Millennial corporate office workers and their transgender bathrooms

I wanna be the very best

Like no one ever was

– Pokemon opening titles

As part of my Christmas escape from routine, I’ve been trying to read more. After the off-putting Ego is the Enemy and the chilling American Tragedy , I stumbled upon an interview with Simon Sinek. He talks about how millennials are difficult to deal with in the workplace and attempts to explain how this is a product of our upbringing in a cautious non-accusatory manner. It’s kind of fun to watch because the set up is clearly intended for dialogue, whereas Sinek goes off into a suspiciously well-structured 15 minute TED talk while the poor host nods along.

millennials in the workplace

Sinek says millennials are accused of being entitled, narcissistic, unfocused and lazy.

He remarks on the fact that corporate purpose and bean bags aren’t cutting it. He talks about the reasons. According to him, there are four.

1. Parenting

According to Sinek, millenials have been subject to “failed parenting strategies”.

Sinek postulates that millennials were repeatedly told that we could have anything we wanted and that we are special.

I guess our parents belong to the generation when toxic compulsive positive thinking really took off, so that would make sense. “Just wish for it – and it’s yours”.

Sinek argues that we got into honours classes not because we accomplished enough, but because our parents complained. 

I am not so sure about this mammy getting us things. If anything, if I had been born 20 years before, my mammy would have had an easier time calling in favours and getting me into a position I didn’t deserve. This is just an impression too, but to me, the world seems more equalised and transparent – at least in education, in Europe.

The underlying premise of Sinek’s argument is that millennials are different due to these 4 causes, but he doesn’t really provide any evidence to say that, beyond the obvious, these reasons are unique to our generation – and thus their explanatory power is questionable.

He argues that participation medals (8th best…) corrupted us. When millennials meet with reality, where coming in 8th doesn’t bring all that validation it did before and mammy can’t get us a promotion, we immediately question our specialness, feel we’re inferior and blame ourselves.

I do recall moving from Moscow to Dublin (for the n-time by in my teens), after not having really lived there for 2 or 3 years, which on that scale is forever, finding that

1. Maths is a dark art to most people

2. Everyone has a medal in something.

At that point, I had barely ever won anything. I recall talking to my dad and wondering how these mildly impressive people were top this and top that. I even talked to my classmate about the dissonance. My dad explained the reality of the differing attitudes in education:

in the West, medals are used for encouragement, and they don’t mean the same thing or serve the same function as the medals of my former Russian prodigy classmates.

My friend took a different approach – together with our other friends, she gave me a little trophy that said “Official Trophy Girl” and my name. That was my first trophy. Sinek clearly knows what he’s talking about.

millennials in the workplace simon sinek


Sinek’s argument is that our Instagram-filtered highlight reel lives raise the standard to the point that unless you are exactly perfect, know exactly what you are talking about, you shouldn’t talk. So when we do talk, we come to out uber-experienced boss and lecture him or her on how it’s done (while having no clue and even less insight). The 2 factors above work against out self-esteem according to Sinek.

Instagram and other social media are very naturally selecting.

I would argue that whatever harm is done through participation medals, it is probably shaken out of us by the cold reality that our ramens need to be quite good before people start liking and replaying them.

He explains how technology is addictive and introduces dopamine. He makes the grotesque comparison of alcohol and social media. Sinek states that the relationships we form are superficial and we’ve no coping mechanisms other than a dopamine hit from the likes on Facebook. He makes a very sweeping assumption that almost everyone is addicted to social media.

Yes, possibly.

However, weren’t there other ways to get hooked on dopamine before? It doesn’t have to be alcohol. Has he heard of Dungeons & Dragons? Maybe, Counterstrike? Back to back episodes of Sabrina on Nickelodeon?

Here, his argument is quite weak . There’s nothing to say that we are more addicted with poor coping skills – compared to any other generation.

millennials lack purpose simon sinek

3. Impatience

We live in a world of instant gratification: Amazon next day delivery, Netflix binges, Tinder dates: “swipe right – I’m a stud”. He argues that the meaningful things (confidence, impact, etc) are slow and meandering.

Again, all of this is true. But was it ever any different? Obviously, it wasn’t Amazon-related, but there were other ways to get instant gratification. For example, fast food is all about instant gratification – and millennials don’t really binge on that at least. Perhaps, impatience is just part of being young. This quote attributed to Socrates reveals so much about the timelessness of the nature of youth:

“The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.”

why millennials suck

4. Environment

Sinek says that the corporate environment takes more interest in the numbers rather than the personal development of their employees.

First, that’s normal.

Corporations owe it to their shareholders, not their employees – that’s the premise of capitalism.

Yes, there is CSR, etc, but they are very much at the margins of corporate life. In fact, there’s nothing necessarily evil about the financial purpose, as at least in theory financial gain is a reflection of the usefulness of something to society – albeit through the prism of a supply and demand intersection.

However, it’s not the act, it’s the cover up. The fact that corporations so often come out with unfalsifiable statements that seem to want to please everyone and stand for nothing as their “values” and “purpose” is really off-putting. Working there makes one feel like a low-ranking accomplice of a gargantuan fraud – without even the freedom to admit it.

The thing that is actually going on here is that the entitled whiney millennials “ruin everything” are specifically the corporate office workers. In generations that came before, fewer people worked in offices of big corporations. Now that there are sufficient numbers of young corporate workers, the generalisation has been spread to millennials as a whole.

In these large corporate institutions, millennials don’t know their boss. Their actual boss is a hedge fund who owns the shares. The person they call their boss is just a slightly more senior employee, who has 10% more of an idea why they’re doing what they’re doing than the poor millennial. There’s no actual real work to do. Going around with balloons for people’s birthdays and making presentations – even pulling all nighters while at it – makes people feel unfulfilled and trapped. There’s no genuine purpose beyond the obvious financial one. That’s the clincher. Justin Bieber knew what to sell to his audience [his recent tour was called Purpose].

I suspect that millennials who are out there chopping wood aren’t as morally dissatisfied as the corporate office worker millennials. Now that wood is chopped, but that presentation you made is probably never going to make any difference – to anyone, anywhere, ever. And you worked so hard to make it into that position – good grades, college, years of delaying gratification – only to end up making dead presentations. You were promised that you would be making an impact. Yeah.

Second, Sinek also assumes that it is the responsibility of a corporation to develop and help the personal growth of employees – which is a bit too invasively brave new world for me. Certainly, my experience of corporate life was that acting like everyone else and generally participating in group think was part of the job. There wasn’t the group of nerds to rescue me this time.

millennials in the workplace video

There’s no real mobility and or even a promise of real success in corporate life. So no wonder we’re out there – overeducated and whinging about issues other people feel are outlandish. Bob Geldof’s recent soundbite about transgender bathrooms is an example. My points isn’t about LGBT.

My point is that you can laugh all you want, but transgender bathrooms give people something they can fight for that is meaningful to them – as it makes people feel significant, makes them feel they made a difference and belong to a group. This is what’s actually missing for millennials.

This phenomenon occurs where religion plays a minor role in one’s upbringing, as was the case with millennials.

Young people who lack a purpose and a sense of belonging can very easily be swayed by politicians into things like violent nationalism.

We’re seeing something in that vein in the recent political developments.

Another threat comes fro the fact that millennials seem to glorify working in corporations – especially if they are tech-related like Google or Facebook, because for years we were taught that that’s the best work there is.

Obviously, this doesn’t apply to everyone, but for some of us the veneer of corporate glamour is stopping us from making honest assessments. Remember, “if it’s repeated – it’s true“; that’s just the human brain.

I wonder if it was different for other generations. Yes, corporate office work wasn’t as big a phenomenon, but how did people get through it without complaining as much as the millennials? Maybe, it was quite a prestigious thing in and of itself – providing the feeling of being special. Now it’s pretty standard. A long time ago GS Elevator came out with a tweet that there aren’t many jobs out there for which you actually need a degree. Cynical as this tweet is, the first year of a corporate graduate programme is likely to confirm that assertion. Getting the most educated, most competitive people and putting them into that environment is a shock to them. Perhaps this didn’t apply for the generations above us who enjoyed their careers more than the millennials as there were fewer people with degrees.

It is also quite possible that it was all the same for previous generations – and their parents also told them that they were lazy, entitled and all the things millennials are hearing. It’s simply their turn to complain.

On the bright side, it has become cool in our generation to be an entrepreneur. While the seasoned entrepreneurs go on about how this romanticised view of building businesses is toxic, I feel it is good to encourage non-bet-the-farm entrepreneurship at least. Or even freelance. It is creative, it has as much purpose as one wants and it is both self- and socially-serving.

Most of all, millennials, myself included, should remember that there’s no use in waiting for someone to come along and give us this magical real purpose we so crave. It is up to us to make our own purpose.

*If none of this makes sense – and you happen to like video games, try Stanley’s Parable. Whoever made the game must be the great-grandchild of Descates and Huxley’s first cousin. They understand corporate life better than those who created it.

millennials in the workplace video simon sinek

You may also like:

Confessions of a career-switching millennial

Millennial ENTP studies

Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote a very sobering piece on the nature of employment

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26 thoughts on “Millennial corporate office workers and their transgender bathrooms”

  1. so that was an interesting read. I heard something similar from my parents and my grandma about how “we” had it so easy and “we” didn’t truly appreciate what we had and “we” didn’t know the value of hard work. I think it’s all just goes in cycles.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sounds like this book would irritate the @#% out of me but would be a very interesting read all the same. While I’m 100% with you that attempting nonstop positivity is not a smart plan (I liked that post!), I’m not sure I’d extend that to participation medals, etc.

    I tend to think that in a perfect world, people would have a basic functional level of self-esteem that didn’t depend on anything external (although maybe serial killers or other people who’ve committed really heinous crimes should lose that? I’m not even sure of that, honestly). In the real world, some people have this, but for the great majority it is more of a utopian ideal, and external validation means a lot, and the solution isn’t to starve children of external validation for “just participating” or “just being them” but to give adults more of it. And I don’t think that in “reality…coming in 8th is worth very little”–it may be worth very little to the people around us, but I think as far as possible we should set our own values on things rather than allowing others to declare our values and goals for us (again, it isn’t always possible, and that’s one reason we should try to be charitable toward and supportive of one another). I also like giving very special recognition for the very special–but we should make an active effort to validate people who don’t excel in visible ways. (I don’t know how to balance these things, and maybe it isn’t possible, and maybe in some moral sense it’s better to be really miserable because you can’t be really good at something you value? I don’t know?)

    Also, вы русская, кажется? Я изучила русский язык на университете и мне весело иногда практиковать. Значит, здравствуйте!!

    Thanks much for the like and the follow and the interesting website!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much. I think you are right that the underlying reason for all of this anguish is that many people’s self-esteem is a function of external circumstances. This is a very universal theme, I think, for all generations. In that sense, coming in 8th is irrelevant, of course. Just to note, it’s a YouTube video that went kind of viral rather than a book. Да, разумеется, мне очень приятно иногда пообщаться по-русски!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. No, no, it’s very interesting to consider your question. Is more abundant positive feedback (that millennials experienced) helpful in developing an internally-based self-esteem or does it get the kids hooked on external validation? It’s probably down to things like consistency, etc.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You know, I just realised, reading this post, that I never once received a participation trophy. Every award I ever got I earned. But because I identify with the problems of millenials, especially workplace treatment and living wages, the old scapegoat of “participation trophies” somehow rang true with me (repetition as truth). I felt I must have gotten something I somehow didn’t deserve, and because I’d received quite a bit of accolade and attention for various reasons, I began to view those well-earned awards as probably “participation grade” (to coin a phrase).

        This part of my life speaks strongly to the idea of external validation. Because I had valued the external validation of the awards I received, the value of those awards were thereby subject to the continued valuation of outside influences. Once that valuation was diminished, the quality of my own work had become lesser in my eyes; and it was so pernicious that I didn’t even realise what had happened.

        I think the question becomes — how do you encourage people, children especially, to self-validate, instead of requiring outside influence? Because once you give reinforcement or punishment on the subject, the outside influence is already in effect.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That’s great to reach those kind of insights.

        I think it is possible to educate, condition and influence a child to be independent and mostly internally validating. None of us are really independent in the absolute sense, but we can be taught to rely less on trophies for self-esteem 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Millennials are a bunch of pussies who never joined the military to become men and women. Good sheep for the slaughterhouse of the modern industrial machine. 😀


  4. This is a thoughtful piece. I enjoyed it. Put in context, I’m almost 68, American male, just retired after 26 years working in administration at a University, and before that a journalist. Like most of my generation lucky enough to come along when we did, I was never unable to find a job when I wanted one, and was encouraged through the Human Potential Movement ideas of the 60s and 70s to “follow my passion.” Well, I did, or tried to. Then…. well, stuff happens that you don’t expect, and it becomes much more important to be good at adapting than in following a plan. “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making plans,” as John Lennon said.

    Generational ideas are always in some sort of broader context, though, aren’t they? For instance, my parents lived through a World War, a global depression and then another world war, with privation and sacrifices we never really have had to face, and so were not hardened in quite the same way. They shaped their lives, especially after WWII so that their children would not have to go through the same hardships. The unintended consequence was that we took advantage and became very entitled, while still carrying around in our heads the moral messages “hard work” “Take nothing for granted” “lift yourself up by your bootstraps”, etc. And we passed on to our kids, including the Millenials, a bunch of mixed messages while we partied too far into our 50s, lived on the trust fund our parents sacrifices had built up, and generally refused to see the contradictions. In the back of my mind, though, is this feeling that it wouldn’t be such a bad thing if we all had to go through some hard times again. “Builds character.”

    I worked with a number of Millenials, and as a generalization, think you’ve nailed it pretty well here. They’re having to deal with a much different– and in some ways, much more challenging environment from a psychological perspective — than I did. It’s not easy. But there is also this feeling that came in sometimes that there’s a lot of passion on top of a great deal of shallowness. Some of it is lack of experience, but some of it is this infuriating dogmatism despite lacks of evidence.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for such a deep reflection! Yes, I know what you mean. As a millennial with Russian (hope you don’t hate!) roots, I have grandparents who were kids during WWII. The context set for them just brought out their personality more. Two were pretty normal but, of the two that were orphaned, one became pathologically frugal (hoarding stuff) and the other became grateful to the point of lacking ambition (and accepting abuse). I think it reflected on their children (my parents). I think you said the most important thing though – it’s about adapting.

      Great to connect with you!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. No, no Russian hate. In fact, I’ve made a few regular correspondent friends with Russians through the blog. I’m big in Siberia! 🙂 I’d just like certain politician to stop effing around with our elections, and to take their candidate back somehow. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Interesting, mostly because of the non confrontational tone. I may or may not be millennial by age group (or was it genX, who knows) but I spent a great many years in some third world countries (long story there).
    Nobody is special, positivity is the same as negativity, and even the most brilliant human being is still insignificant in the grand scheme. Totally opposite to the “I’m special, give me my trophy” mentality. Now you can see the difference.
    In the end, I have given on this generation, and like others said before, it comes in cycles.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. 150 years ago a few years before the Industrial Revolution in America began. It required many many people to “learn” their job. They worked hard for little pay and much progress. Every generation since has gotten it a little easier but have also had that nagging sense of uselessness. The worker does not become the leader of his industry and all frontiers are limited in new territory. Its new and also old. China, has dealt with this five hundred years before us. There was no office worker but there was an opaqueness to their duties and expectations for their lifetimes. Maybe the decrease in religious belief led to the existential questioning. Especially in millennials.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What’s available to us is a view of the agriculture period, to industrial period, to the digital period. The time periods at least in America have become shorter. Post farming, allowed for childhood there was not much of that before. With our time to mature extending our childhood the previous generations, mock that. It doesn’t feel post digital but how I described it we should be post digital. So, there’s a lot of influences on millennials that are catalysts for change religion, social maturity, and economics. Since America is like ‘so great’ (haha) we only measure productivity by how much rather than experimenting and challenging this new thinking compared to old models. I think, no one has really defined millennials which is why every company is throwing money at them hoping they can buy their loyalty like, previous generations. Money was the old answer.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Interesting. I am quite unsure that things really change that much between different time periods as human nature remains what it is. Or at least things come in cycles, I reckon. What do you think is the new answer (you said money was the old answer)

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Farmers would work before dawn to dusk and everyone in the family was also a farmer. You and I both know human nature is a social construct it’s more wants than anything else at present. Neil Postman’s book on childhood is, pretty good. I’m not saying millennials are ALL childish. I do think they have a greater amount of leisure time and know how to exploit it like, children. Our culture is a culture of consumers since WWII so simple supply and demand takes over and the “leisurely millennial” becomes not only the target customer but what everyone adopts as an idol. I think we can both agree that we’ve met people that have extended their childhood and adolescence far beyond an acceptable limit. Any show on Netflix only promotes this lifetime frat boy or coed. I don’t really have a clue on how to motivate millennials my ex wife is one. She cashed her 401k out to take a year off for, leisure. My last vacation was two years ago. I think it’s not a millennial problem, baby boomers pretend the old days of segregation were wonderful. If all generations accepted reality that would push everyone forward. It would also be, enlightenment.


      3. Sorry to hear the ex part. Millennials value free time, that’s for sure. However, they are notoriously difficult to market to – as distinct from the older generations. Millennials don’t really buy things as much (they go for experiences) – and they want free time for the sake of free time I think. I haven’t seen anyone idolising millennials – I think people are quite negative towards them. Then again I think older generations always are generally negative towards younger ones. Perhaps you’re talking about something different – but what I call human nature isn’t a social construct. It is precisely that – nature. DNA. Across cultures, be they tribes discovered 5 years ago or people in the West – we all share certain innate qualities. That’s how I define human nature. I appreciate that being a farmer is different to being a corporate worker, but they too work dusk till dawn in a lot of places, it runs in families too. Is it really that different?


      4. Okay. Do you think the marketing had been affected since Millennials make less money for the same work of previous generations? I’ve read that the present time is very similar to Europe in 1920’s. I don’t know much of the sociology of that time other than there was not much then, either. I think they make less because they are more educated and also competing with the previous generation for the same respect and less pay. That could be a negative for everyone. Education eliminates choices as much as no education does. Smarter customers are harder to sell but not in the arts. We want our dancing and movies to reinforce stereotypes. For now.

        When you strip what we call humanity to our basic needs of survival food, shelter, water. That’s human nature. Your view of human nature is also correct but it’s progressive and the social nature plays off our instincts. Media labels and divides us like cattle that is our social construct and against our Human Nature. That is a Philip Zimbardo “Lucifer Effect” Human Nature. Also, when in history would a human be able to be obese than in this century? So, the social human nature contradicts the physical. Farmers and corporations are different because of class and welfare. Farmers only wealth is his farm and there is no vacation. There is no “decompress” happy hour. There is no money for that. Social standings are quite different even with the localvores movements and organic standards. They actually cost more produce and farmers are paid the same. Corporations have elevated themselves and they aren’t leaving.

        Liked by 1 person

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