Ita Buttrose thinks millennial workers need a hug. These business leaders disagree

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Shark Tank investor and renowned Australian entrepreneur Naomi Simson.

ABC chair Ita Buttrose has invoked the wrath of the youth, and many of those who employ them, after suggesting young people in the workforce these days lack resilience and “almost need hugging”.

Buttrose made the comments, first reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, at the Australia-United Kingdom Chamber of Commerce, suggesting that the workforce has changed, and the millennials need more reassurance, transparency and recognition than old-guard employees.

“They’re very keen on being thanked and they almost need hugging — that’s before COVID of course, we can’t hug any more — but they almost need hugging,” Buttrose reportedly said.

“You have to understand that they seem to lack the resilience that I remember from my younger days.”

Resilience seems to be in “short supply”, she added.

“Whether that’s because of bad parenting, I don’t know.”

Well, needless to say, the millennials themselves — who are actually aged anywhere between 22 and 38 — were less than impressed.

But, what about those who are actually hiring, and leading, them?

“The job of a leader is to ensure that they align everyone to the ‘cause’ or the purpose of the business, the job of a great manager is to nurture every team member’s unique ‘gifts’ for the good of the ‘cause’,” Naomi Simson, founder of the Big Red Group and former Shark Tank investor, tells SmartCompany.

“Categorising any group as ‘needing more’ seems a little off the mark to me. When work moves from being a place you go to something you do, the way anybody connects to the the business and its ‘cause’ is more important than ever,” she adds.

Once, work was a place to go, Simson says. But in the era of COVID-19, never has that been less true.

“Today, work has shifted from a place to scattered remote spaces, and the technology shift from fixed communications to mobile communications has redefined how and where we work.

“Recognition is needed more than ever as a way all team members connect,” she says.

“Every diverse group also represents an opportunity to listen and learn (and likely represent customer groups). If a business — especially traditional media — is trying to attract a younger demographic, then perhaps engage the younger members of the team in that conversation,” Simson adds.

Naomi Simson with some of her millenial employees. Source: supplied.

Millennials will soon make up a much larger chunk of the global workforce. And they want experiences, Simson says. They don’t only want to go to their jobs every day. They want to do something that’s important to them — and to be part of a team while they’re doing it.

“They will, as a whole, prioritise a meaningful career over greater financial security. And if they feel they aren’t making an impact and are not progressing, they aren’t afraid to leave,” she adds.

“Besides, what is wrong with a bit of recognition and acknowledging someone’s contribution? To be human is to connect with others, it is a leader’s role to make sure everyone connects.”

Michelle Akhidenor, a millennial herself and founder and chief of podcasting production company The Peers Project, tells SmartCompany there’s no denying that millennials are “used to instant gratification, are often more impatient than most and expect more from our employers, clients and those in positions of power”.

Michelle Akhidenor The Peers Project

The Peers Project founder and chief Michelle Akhidenor. Source: supplied.

“But holding people to a higher standard and demanding more, does not equate to us lacking resilience or grit,” she says.

“From the 100-plus millennial entrepreneurs I’ve interviewed on the podcast, there’s absolutely no doubt that our generation is making waves, changing the ways industries operate and not stopping until we start to see real change in the world,” Akhidenor says.

Rather than being ‘snowflakes’ in need of a hug, she says, they’re raising the bar.

“By stepping in our power, demanding more from those around us and recognising our own unique value, we are not only advancing society but are showing the next generation that it’s okay to raise your voice.”

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