Millennials – snowflakes or on the cusp of a mental health revolution?


We continually see headlines in papers and suggestions from employers that the generation we name as millennials are “snowflakes,” which is a derogatory way of suggesting they are not as mentally strong and well equipped to deal with the world as the rest of us.

I think there is a different perspective to take on this.

It is fair to say that millennials observe the world differently to my generation, Generation X. They see the world that my generation has influenced and they do not buy into the same values.

When I left school Margaret Thatcher was in power and I bought into the idea that I was lucky to have a job and that I needed hard work, commitment and initiative to make a success of my life. I still believe those are essential components of success. The challenge with an era-defining ethos is that once it is bought into it can get out of hand, and my generation have taken the work hard, play hard ethos a little too far, especially when we tie it into the pursuit of money.

In my generation there are too many working hard for the sake of something that, while it can give freedom and relief from fear, is generally accepted to not bring happiness.

Millennials on the other hand value work life balance, experiences, friendships and time. My generation also values those things but not as much as money, or so it seems.

I have spoken to two different employers recently who work in industries that hire millennials. One is in technology and the other is in recruitment.

The technology employer realised that he was facing two problems. The first was rising wages as other people tried to poach his staff. The other was that no matter how much he increased his wages the staff turnover continued. He realised it was not about the money.

After careful consideration and, after talking at length with is workforce he altered his contracts, not to pay more, but to give more holiday allowance.

Almost overnight his problems vanished and he has a secure workforce to plan with.

The recruitment employer moaned to me that he found it increasingly difficult to motivate theses “millennials” because none of them had mortgages, they did not appear to be ambitious and money was not that important. When I pointed out to him that maybe he was trying to motivate them with incentives that motivated him he shrugged and effectively said, “yes, so what!”

One of those employers has resolved their problems. The other still has the same problems two years later.

So clearly, the millennial generation sees the world differently to us.

There is, however, another issue that pervades this subject which is that of our mental health.

My generation is characterised by a stiff upper lip, work hard, play hard culture. We do not admit vulnerability and we do not talk about the dreaded “F” word, feelings. Knowing what I do and doing what I do, I know that ignoring feelings of vulnerability and hoping they will go away is a long term recipe for poor emotional health. If I do not deal with my fear (stress) or acknowledge and allow myself to grieve (sadness) then I am storing up trouble for the future. This is why so many get to middle age and start questioning why they have worked so hard for what they have when they are fundamentally unhappy.

What we also know is that when we start to deal with our feelings of vulnerability and we start to allow ourselves to feel, there will be many moments where we feel out of control, unable to cope, and feel as if we have let a dam burst and that this maybe was a mistake. We also know that if we push through that and continue to develop a healthy relationship with our feelings we will reach a level where we are healthier, happier and have better overall wellbeing. It does, however, take work and it involves admitting on occasions that we cannot just push through.

Back to our millennials. They have been watching us and in their eyes not only have we been making a mess of the world (global warming and poor distribution of wealth to name but two) but we have been making a mess of our mental health and they do not wish to copy us.

They are the first generation to actually start talking openly about their mental and emotional health. This also means that they are more likely to take a mental health day, more likely to finish work on time and more likely to use all of their holiday entitlement.

When we are learning to deal with our feelings there are moments when we feel weaker than we think we should feel.

When we are observing our millennials we are observing a whole generation going through that process, and guess what!… they are doing it and they will benefit this world in ways we have never been able to do so.

So, snowflake? No!

Brave new generation on the cusp of helping the world deal with mental health properly? Yes.