January 10, 2017
Plenty of research is being carried out into Millennials’ headspace. Researchers, employers, marketers and even parents are desperate to know what gets younger people to tick. But why?
Millennials seem to be something of an enigma to most older people. Selfie-obsessed, yet willing to work hard in difficult conditions because they love their jobs. They have a love of irony and sarcasm, but they’re perfectly willing to take causes on as and when they strike a chord with them. These are the people who will spend as much time curating a costume for a fancy dress party as they will presenting to the board. They’ll choose to ignore a bygone pop star they used to admire browsing the shops, only to tweet them later saying hello.
Lucy Standing has over 20 years of working as a psychologist, working within the discipline of business psychology. She trains individuals and teams to perform at their optimum level and become better, happier and more organised – in essence, a more focused and healthier workforce.
We decided to speak to Lucy about how she feels about the Millennial way of thinking, their hopes, their fears, and how their future might look.
Lots of Millennials seem keen to work hard and improve themselves, their working environments, and their minds. Why do you think this is?
Humans are driven by four basic drives: the drive to acquire, the drive to defend, the drive to learn and the drive to bond (Lawrence and Nohria). If I was to generalise, it would be to say that younger people will have a stronger drive to acquire, simply because as they set out at the beginning of their life long journey, they will not have the house or the savings that older generations will have built up.
As we age, drives like the drive to bond and drive to learn become more important. This is why you can observe more voluntary or ‘giving back’ behaviour in older generations.
What do you think the issues which keep them awake at night are?
I can’t be sure. However, I would hypothesise, based on the fact the younger generation are facing a housing crises and pension funds which won’t sustain a comfortable retirement, it would be a logical assumption to say financial worries will likely be weighing high in the minds of those who have yet to acquire any assets.
Millennials are often presented as being more concerned with looking good on Instagram rather than being grown-ups. Do you think this makes Millennials look a bit fickle?
Hmm! I would challenge this, mainly as I can’t back it up and I can’t stand by anything without an evidence base.
What I would say is we see louder, more gregarious people far more than we see the quiet or the shy. This doesn’t mean there are less of them - simply that the vehicles for promoting those who want to share and spend more time in the public eye are now more readily available.
I would say this is more down to technology enabling us to see what was always there. In the 1960s you had all the peace-loving, pot-smoking hippies, who meditated and lived in communes. Are things really any different today? I would say no; human evolution is not that fast. Culturally, things change, and I see this as being another example of humans adapting to the changes around us.
Mindfulness has its fair share of fans among Millennials. Do you think it’s a beneficial new way of thinking, or does it encourage selfishness?
I’m mindful of not jumping on the mindfulness bandwagon! I don’t have a problem with mindfulness as a concept, but when things become mandatory or prescribed is where I get irritated. I’ve heard stories about schools which make it compulsory for children to spend time in a mindfulness session. This is where I part company with the mindfulness brigade.
Evidence for the benefits of mindfulness really depend on how the individual engages with it - if they don’t engage, they won’t benefit. There just isn’t the evidence needed to support or recommend a mandated approach.
Millennials often seem to embrace the fact they have no plan for the future – they publicise it under the umbrella of ‘YOLO’. What do you think about this? Is the whole ‘living for today’ idea short-sighted?
It is - but this is scientifically documented: adolescents engage in more risk-taking behaviour than adults. Risk-taking behaviours decline as into adulthood because of changes in the brain which help people to self regulate more effectively. We can’t be sure of why this happens, but a logical deduction would be to look back just 100-150 years: life expectancy was only 30-40 years.
If you only had until your mid 30’s to live, you had a very short time to achieve what you needed: maybe this is why people when they are young take increased risks. I don’t think young people today are any more reckless or idiotic than they were 100 or even 1,000 years ago.
Do you think social media is a help or a hindrance for young people? Does it perpetuate the idea that everyone’s having a better time, and encourage useless comparisons?
I do think social media does put more pressure on people to look and act as though they are constantly having fun. It is still too early to say what sort of impact it is having psychologically on generations, but it is undoubted that people are influenced by their peers and those they look up to.
Social media enables more contact and more voyeurism, which is not healthy. We weren’t designed to spend our time looking at Instagram feeds. We were designed for a life of toil, hard work and early death. For those seeking a life coach, without being too cynical, I’d say get an engaging job first.
Millennials often seem to take a very laid back approach. This is very different from the post-war generations, who seemed politically switched-on and determined to do better than their parents. What are your thoughts?
I think a world war can focus the mind! I believe that this an example of humans adapting to their environment. This question is positioned from someone in the Western world sitting in an office with no real hardship in life (sorry!). If you went to Syria right now, you’d find a very different cultural environment and people would be behaving in response to that.
Do you think Millennials will make decent parents, or are they going to raise a generation of entitled kids?
I think they’ll make great parents. The drive to bond and to defend will be the same in the future as it is now. The hormones and the genetic legacy we’ve received will be passed on; it is very hard to indulge your own whims when you have a baby screaming next to you.
A lot of people think that Millennials are ‘politically apathetic’ – that they pick up on and parrot ideas which are fashionable at the time, such as Brexit. Do you think that’s the case?
I think you can blame apathy on the point I raised above; if people are comfortable and carefree, why would they engage as much as when they feel more personally affected by what is affecting them?
I think for many, the impact (or not) of Brexit was just personally too far away for people to get as engaged.
Do you think younger people need to adopt a tougher, more common-sense based mindset?
No; I think younger people are perfectly able to deal with hardships. I think when they need to toughen up, as and when life throws them a curveball, they’ll have the resilience to deal with it!