I hear the term “millennial” frequently from nonstop critics about our age group. These criticisms are usually on our work ethic, social values, and intelligence. The problem I have with these assumptions does not manifest itself in old people complaining about young people. Beyond mere criticism, the substance and lack of depth in the arguments catches my attention. It is frequently stated that the millennial age group lacks work ethic and possesses feelings of entitlement. It is also stated that this behavior stems from being given participation trophies as children, which is assumed to be a cause-effect relationship to the behavior of devaluing work ethic and the sense of achievement. People use the participation trophy argument against millennials while lacking the general understanding of the nature of behavior that is supposedly developed. With most arguments, the tendency is to neglect research and contrarily cite an article from the Huffington Post as the primary source of reasoning. The key is to understand before critiquing.
The idea of participation trophies ruining work ethic is clarified by the psychological study of the “overjustification effect.” Social psychology studies on the effect were performed in 1979 by Mark Lepper and David Greene from Stanford University and Richard Nisbett from the University of Michigan. The hypothesis of the effect states, “The proposition that a person’s intrinsic interest in an activity may be undermined by inducing them to engage in that activity as an explicit means to some extrinsic goal.”
The study observed children’s attitude and behavior relative to reward in an activity. The devaluation of work ethic did not come from the reward itself, but rather the approach to how and when the reward was presented to the children. The study went on to state, “contracting explicitly to engage in an activity for a reward should undermine the interest in the activity even when the reward is insubstantial or merely symbolic. Conversely, receipt of an unforeseen, unexpected reward after engaging in an activity should have little or no detrimental effect, even when the reward is a highly prized material one.”
In short, work ethic comes from the incentives to pursue an activity. Pursuing something for the purpose of reward is detrimental to work ethic, not being rewarded for partaking in the activity. That is not to say that giving away free hand outs for showing up is a good thing. It needs to be understood that our pursuits should revolve around self-fulfillment, not strictly material reward.
A viral interview with Simon Sinek sums up a majority of complaints about the millennial age group. Millennials lack work ethic and feel entitled to everything because of poor parenting and participation trophies. What his argument lacks is an explanation for how he applies this behavior to the entirety of the millennial generation. Further questioning the credibility of his claims is his lack of background and understanding in social psychology and human behavior. His interview also presents no data to support any of his claims.
Linda DeRosier is a psychology professor at Rocky Mountain College who has been teaching since 1967. She has been able to observe the behavior of young people from several generations. When I asked her about her observations on millennials, she drew her conclusions from the classroom. “It is always a bell shaped curve in how well students perform. In terms of millennials, from my observation and experience, they are not that different from students in other eras. There are things wrong with this world, and there has been for a long time. But you cannot give young people what they want, you have to give them what they need. This is just a big time of a consolidation of identity.”
Derosier went into further discussion of how people come to these conclusions and why there are countless numbers of articles and videos on social media that apply such behavior to the millennial demographic.
“People are threatened by new ideas,” said Derosier. “When someone reaches the middle of their life, no matter how much they have or have not accomplished, and they see young people coming up who are doing better than they are, they feel threatened. People have so many apocalyptic ideas because they figure that if they are going to be gone, everyone else will be too.”
With the young generation being more open to controversial subjects like gay marriage, marijuana legalization, and racial and gender equality, it can be hard for older generations to come to terms with these types of change. Older people tend to mistake this open-mindedness with weakness. With more focus on making progressive changes in our own country rather than storming the beaches of another, this leads to the belief of millennials being entitled and insubordinate rather than tough and patriotic.
Each generation has spent time being exposed to different environments. The perspectives of each generation are going to be different and often opposing. DeRosier went on to say, “There are so many cultural differences from film to language, but it is a good thing that we have such a variety of perspectives. Self expression comes in a lot of ways. I do think it is sad that millennials reject some of our old ways. I liked that lifestyle. But I admire the direction they are going.”
Regardless of the different environments people have been exposed to, more people need to practice empathy, strive to see things from other points of view, and allocate more time observing and understanding instead of arguing.
“The higher you climb a mountain, the view is not always better, but it is always different.” said DeRosier, “You are sitting there, I am sitting here. If we draw what we see there are two completely different pictures, yet we occupy the exact same space. Seeing the world through the eyes of someone else is important, but it is hard to teach.”
While there are things about people we can never change, we can only try to influence them to put thought into their arguments. And no matter the argument, we can only accept the current circumstances and take steps to make improvements. Things are different from how they used to be and they will continue to change.