Young workers today are 'more self-obsessed and vain'

Professor Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic examines the differences between between millennials and their predecessors.

by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic
Last Updated: 02 Dec 2015

Although millennials (adults born since the early 1980s) have become a hot management topic, most views on them are imprecise; they are based on intuitive observations or surveys that confound the effects of age and generation.

While experienced practitioners may have recommendations in managing millennials, it is important to discuss generational differences by inspecting reliable and valid data.

Of particular salience is the work of psychologist Jean Twenge, who compared millions of people on established personality, attitudes and values tests across different decades while holding age constant.

Her results highlight four important differences between millennials and their predecessors:

1. Millennials are less interested in work: they see it as less central and meaningful, and are less motivated to work hard.

2. Millennials are more interested in fun: they value leisure and free time and expect to be entertained even by work.

3. Millennials are less interested in others: they are less inclined to form strong connections with people and are generally more detached and independent.

4. Millennials are more interested in themselves: they are more self-obsessed and vain, and have a higher 'need for uniqueness'; they want to feel special and regard fame as a critical life goal.

These characteristics are not necessarily problematic. Seeing work as less central and valuing fun lead to a healthier work-life balance. That may mean lower productivity, but also better physical and emotional health for millennials. Being more interested in oneself than in others may result in a less altruistic, more antisocial society, but it could also advance people's self-interests and ambitions.

Still, it would be beneficial to teach millennials about the potential drawbacks of their generational profile.

After decades of nurturing high levels of self-belief - creating both unrealistic expectations and a sense of entitlement - it would be responsible to educate millennials about self-awareness, humility and hard work.

Even if the dreams of millennials have been fuelled by the disproportionate praises of parents and teachers, and the US self-help industry, it's not too late for a reality check. When you treat people like adults, they tend to behave like adults.

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is a professor of business psychology at UCL, VP of innovation at Hogan Assessments and co-founder of metaprofiling.com.

Follow Professor Chamorro-Premuzic on Twitter at @drtcp.

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