8 Questions with Jean Twenge

How do we handle these millennials? Oh, boy...

They have now become a dominant part of the marketplace, both as consumers and as part of the workforce. I went to see the new movie, "The Intern" with Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway (funny + good movie, by the way) and the message started to sink in: times, they are a changing and you must change the way you manage people.

The old school way just is not going to work. The old days are just that: old; stale and ineffective.

Happy hours at day's end are more key than working late and you had better walk around the office and tell your people what's right vs. what's wrong. 

It's an interesting time in the workplace and I thought that it is no better time to share this quick interview I did with Jean Twenge where we talked about concepts from her new book, Generation Me





Brandon Steiner: Generation Me- why did you write this book? Who is this book for?

Jean Twenge: I wrote this book to explore the differences among the most recent generations (Boomers, GenX'ers, and Millennials) based on the best data available -- primarily nationally representative surveys done over decades that can compare each generation when they were young. Too many characterizations of generations are based on anecdote, subjective interviews, or studies done at one time that can't separate out the effects of age. There is now so much good data over time that we don't need to rely on guesses about generational differences anymore. At the same time, examples and stories are very useful when they reflect the trends in the survey data, so there's lots of color commentary too.

Generation Me is for anyone who wants to understand this generation better -- parents, teachers, managers, the generation themselves. The revised edition includes a completely new chapter on generational differences in work attitudes, and that's written primarily for managers, with a few suggestions for young workers as well.

BS: What is the most shocking truth about the millennial generation?

JT: I think the most shocking truth is that Millennials are NOT looking for meaning at work -- they are actually less likely than previous generations to value work that is interesting, where they can make friends, or that is helpful to others. So many have assumed that Millennials are more likely to want altruism, connection, and meaning in their jobs, but that's not what Millennials themselves are saying. Instead, the largest generational differences in work values are in work-life balance (Millennials want more) and in social connections at work (Millennials want less).

BS: One of your research papers defines millennials in the workplace as “the combination of not wanting to work hard but still wanting more money and status.” First, how did this happen? Second, what kind of problems does this mentality create?

JT: Compared to Boomers at the same age, Millennials are more likely to say they don't want to work hard, but more likely to say they want a job where they can make a lot of money. So that's the first thing to understand about this statement: It's based on what young people say about themselves, and not on what older people might be grumbling about. It's tough to nail down any one cause for these shifts, but they may be rooted in media, which often highlights wealth and status without showing the hard work that these things usually require. In addition, this generation got A's in high school for doing less work and got trophies in children's sports leagues just for showing up, so we've unintentionally taught them that hard work isn't really necessary to gain rewards.

BS: What is good about the millennial generation?

JT: One of the greatest strengths of the Millennial generation is their innate sense of equality. Many just don't understand why you'd treat someone differently based on their race or sexual orientation. They are very comfortable with difference and able to see people as individuals. 

BS: How do you learn from failure?

JT: Most adults will tell you that they learned the most about themselves and their life paths when they failed. Failure tells you what not to do again, and helps you understand how to do better next time.  

Kids receiving participation trophies in youth sports has become a hot topic lately because it acts as a summation of the overall mentality of the millennial generation. You recently appeared on HBO Real Sports talking about it. Could you reiterate your position?

Parents and coaches give participation trophies thinking that it will boost kids' self-esteem and help them perform better. But it doesn't -- extrinsic rewards like trophies aren't very motivating, and self-esteem doesn't actually cause success. Worse, participation trophies send the message that just showing up is good enough. Clearly, that's not going to work very well in the real world.

BS: Every generation faces different challenges. What have been some of the most impactful challenges for millennials? How do they beat these challenges?

JT: Many Millennials feel they were not prepared for a competitive world. They say, "No one told us it was going to be this hard." I agree with them: We've done this generation a disservice by telling them they are special and giving them trophies for nothing and then sending them out into an increasingly competitive job market. They've also been hit by a lot of economic forces out of their control, from the Great Recession to huge student loan bills to high housing prices. Overall, it's important to recognize that Millennials -- like every generation -- were shaped by their culture. That means they didn't get this way by themselves. However, they now have to deal with the consequences themselves. That's going to mean a lot of hard work and frugal living. I think they can do it, but it will be a difficult road.

BS: You’re a professor, you have written three books and you have appeared as a speaker in many forms of media talking the complexities of the young generation. What’s next for you?

JT: I'd like to write a book about the next generation -- those born in the mid-1990s and later. I'm calling them iGen. 

BS: Thank you, Jean.

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