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#sowhoknew: Managing Millennials – all ‘me me me’ or just misunderstood?

Fifty per cent of Millennials believe that ‘someone should make a movie about their life’ according to Viacom’s Velocity research. Are Millennials really that conceited or is it just a case of misunderstanding by Baby Boomer and Gen X leadership?

So apart from the fact they believe their lives are sufficiently interesting to make a blockbuster about them (although I suspect that many of them wouldn’t have enough content for a 30 second advert) what else does the Velocity ‘Culture of Proximity‘ study of 2,000 respondents aged 18-34 reveal about our seemingly selfish Millennials? Well they have a belief that they themselves have become a ‘centre of gravity’ for pop culture as much as the celebrities they adore, to the extent that 61 per cent of Millennials say that they think they too can be ‘influencers‘. Taking it one stage further an astonishing 86 per cent of them believe that fans have a level of ‘ownership‘ of the people / brands that they are fans of.

The relationship they have with their icons has also shifted from fan worship to pseudo friendship status. The research revealed that almost half of them “feel like they know their favourite celebrity” and a third of that group believe that those celebs are more like a friend or family member to them. When it comes to an authentic version of themselves, it seems they prefer to put their lives through a variety of synthetic filters to project an image of themselves which doesn’t necessarily reflect reality. Seventy per cent of Millennials admitted to selecting activities that will give them an opportunity to do a little boast posting on their chosen social channels and nearly a third of them admitted that they often post items that are designed to make their lives seem better than they actually are.

I asked Ben Harries, who is CEO of JumpStart Digital for his opinion and intriguingly he made a comparison to a character from the classic 80’s John Hughes movie ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’,”Millennials remind me a lot of the character Del Griffith played by John Candy with that look of shock and dejection on his face when Neil Page, played by Steve Martin, roasts him for his tedious anecdotes… Here’s a good idea. Have a point it makes it so much more interesting for the listener.”

So is there any redemption for this supposedly self-obsessed generation? Well, firstly it seems that they are much more prepared to talk about topics which have previously been taboo. The Millennials in the study said it is acceptable to publicly share information about:

  • Mental illness (70 per cent)
  • Coming out (70 per cent)
  • Going to rehab (55 per cent)
  • Having a miscarriage (50 per cent)

Nick Blunden who was Global MD at the Economist (and is now CCO at The Business of Fashion) also thinks the narcissistic reputation of Millennials is unjust and heaped praise on the selfie-generation at last years Millennial 20/20 summit where he said, “They manage their own personal brands not just as an ego trip, but because they want to inspire action around the causes they are passionate about.”

But just like myself, Nick and Ben are not Millennials. In fact we are far from it. So in the pursuit of balance I decided to ask a 26 year old Millennial what her thoughts were. Jordan Harries is a Roundtable Executive at the Financial Times and she has some pretty forthright views on the topic, “We have been parented by a generation who exceeded expectations, not because they were a freakishly talented bunch but because societal circumstances were pretty good. Most millennials have therefore been born into better lives than their parents and as a result we have had massive expectation placed on us to ‘make the most of it’. Technology has only accelerated this.”

Jordan goes on to say:”This means that our expectations of ourselves are much, much higher than they should be: we expect to be in jobs that are well-paid, prestigious, interesting, stable and fulfilling. For the first time in history we can see what our peers are doing, or at least what we think they’re doing, fed to us in a steady stream of filtered photos and sickening hashtags. This constant pressure and scrutiny has led to a more challenging situation than the generation before them which they’re also shockingly ill-equipped to deal with.”

Ryan Jenkins is the author of “The Millennial Manual: The Complete How-To Guide to Manage, Develop, and Engage Millennials at Work” and he talks about how, “Millennials have different values, expectations, and motivations from previous generations thus a new approach to workplace recognition must be considered.”

Jenkins believes that ‘recognition’ is the key to understanding and ultimately getting the best out of Millennials. One tactic, amongst many, that he talks about is how they respond better to a more personalised approach when it comes to their management and incentives.

So what do you think? Do you believe that Millennials are just a bunch of spoilt brats with a heightened sense of self entitlement? Or conversely, are they a misunderstood generation simply trying to cope with an increasingly stressful work environment now dominated by technology and social media which just requires a more personal management style? As ever, I’m keen to hear your thoughts.

Steve Blakeman

Steve Blakeman is the Global Media Lead - Nestlé at Mindshare. Previously, he was the Managing Director - Global Accounts, OMD Europe. Previously, he was the CEO, Asia Pacific – OMD. Prior to that, he was Global Chief Integration Strategy Officer (Asia Pacific) for IPG Mediabrands (Initiative & Universal McCann). He has also had stints as worked as Managing Partner at Omnicom Media Group owned media agency, PHD where he successfully launched their second office in the UK. He began his career at JWT and has over two decades of experience in advertising, media and marketing communications.