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Do Millennials really need hugs?

Illustration: John Shakespeare

Illustration: John Shakespeare Credit:


I (just) fall into the category of Millennial and, like you, I’m not convinced that this is anything more than a fairly insipid generalisation. I certainly know people who exhibit the characteristics contained in Ita Buttrose’s claim, but most of them aren’t Millennials.

Of course, personal observation is necessarily biased and likely skewed. So I decided to find out whether there was any research into people between the ages of 25 and 40 (or thereabouts) being hug-dependent, thank you-seeking marshmallows.

Dr Rajvinder Samra, a lecturer in health in the School of Health, Wellbeing and Social Care at The Open University in Britain, said there was none she knew of. Instead, she said this was more likely a case of ageism.

“To imply that an entire generation of people ‘lack resilience’ is a belief – a stereotype – based on age. Not only that, but it is a value judgment, because resilience is deemed to be good in our societies and Ita Buttrose thinks they ‘lack’ it.”

There is research that suggests separate generations have different expectations of work to one another, but that relates to how long they stay in a job. A study a little while ago found that Baby Boomers on average remained six years and eight months, but Millennials were averaging two years and eight months.

Dr Samra doesn’t believe this points to a character flaw.

“I would not say this indicates lacking resilience as much as it indicates social changes, and there is no reason why we would conclude that changing expectations towards work are better or worse [than the] needs and priorities that [came before them].”

If it is indeed true Millennials are looking for acknowledgement, Dr Samra says, it’s understandable.

“When Ita Buttrose speaks of needing thanks and hugs, maybe she is trying to suggest that Millennials need more feedback and reassurance than those from previous generations. If that were true, there are conditions today that may play into this that may be heightened now.

“[They include] higher levels of graduates in the job marketplace, long recessions – and a coming recession – and greater deregulation of markets in some economies that have allowed poor working conditions and practices for flexible but unpredictable work.”

In combination, these factors, Dr Samra says, create an environment where feedback or demonstrations of appreciation from bosses or colleagues “might help offset the unpredictable and competitive nature of work”. In this regard, seeking verbal reassurance makes sense.

“I would advise that when someone thinks they see an entire generation of workers change, they question what happened in the wider environment to feed into this change, rather than making judgments about individuals’ characters or personalities.

“Doing the latter can contribute to ageist stereotypes that won’t be helpful in resolving any wider issues relating to employment practices and the working environment.”

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