People who complain about millennials are really just complaining about being old

They’re not different. They’re just young.
They’re not different. They’re just young.
Image: Reuters/Mike Blake
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Countless books, news articles, consultancies, and workshops are founded on the premise that millennials are intrinsically different humans from all who came before them, and that entirely new strategies must be crafted to manage their unprecedented levels of entitlement and laziness.

Critics of that position argue that workplace behaviors labeled as “millennial”—like impatience, having unrealistic expectations for career advancement, and a desire for personal fulfillment—are more appropriately called “being young.”

Patty McCord is the former head of HR at Netflix and co-author of a canonical deck on creating a corporate culture that’s been viewed more than 16 million times. On a recent episode of the podcast Friction, she told host and Stanford management professor Bob Sutton why she doesn’t tolerate hand-wringing over millennials in the workplace.

“People want to have conversations about millennials and I don’t like to talk about it. I think it’s stupid,” said McCord, who left Netflix in 2012 and is now a consultant. “You were a millennial, I was a millennial. … It’s called being young, being early in your career. What do you want? Everything. When do you want it? Now.”

McCord summarizes a key argument against stereotyping the specific group of people born in the last two decades of the previous century: The issue isn’t that millennials are different from previous generations—it’s that people who are young are different from people who aren’t.

Take the common accusation that selfie-snapping millennials are more narcissistic than previous generations. In a 2010 paper, a trio of psychologists argued that a historical review of data shows that narcissism rates for all generations peak in early adulthood and decline with age. “When older people are told that younger people are getting increasingly narcissistic, they may be prone to agree because they confuse the claim for generational change with the fact that younger people are simply more narcissistic than they are,” the authors wrote, in a section called “Every Generation Is Generation Me.”

Instead of worrying about millennials, McCord says, “organizations should be designed for and breed fully formed adults,” which she defines this way:

A fully formed adult is someone who is serious about their life and their career and what they want to contribute. You can have fully formed adults in their 20s all the time, and there are plenty of not fully formed adults in their 40s and 50s—and we work with them every day.