With increasing numbers of millennials and Gen Z (frequently referred to as ‘Snowflakes’), now entering the workforce, an intergenerational clash with old-school traditionalist managers may seem inevitable. Millennials are often perceived as fragile and sensitive, easily offended, avocado-eating, media-addicted, selfie takers, with a strong sense of entitlement. They appear very different to the currently incumbent leaders and their more ‘traditional’ mindsets. Is the snowflake generation really less resilient and tolerant than the previous generations, or should we welcome their sensitivity, confidence and ‘woke-ness’?
As we step into the second decade of the 21st century, most millennials and an increasing number of Gen Z have either already or will soon enter the global workforce 1. The progressive takeover of this new workforce is expected to lead to a paradigm shift in the corporate mindset, as these new generations clash with their more traditional predecessors. But what are the implications of their increasing influence?
Clearly, this is not the first dramatic shift caused by a new generation with new values. These have often taken place in the aftermath of global crises or war. Yet the impact of technological developments over the last 25 years means that the latest shift does seem to have some unprecedented elements. Globalization, populism and the rise of Web 2.0 are adding further layers to the main differences, as well as provoking a clash between the mindsets of ‘snowflakes’ and the previous generations.
Why a “Snowflake”?
What defines the snowflake generation? The term ‘snowflake’ gained popularity thanks to the 1999 cult film Fight Club, where Brad’s Pitt character, Tyler Durden says, ‘You are not special! You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake.’
Although not originally intended as an insult, today the word ‘snowflake’ is used in a derogatory manner to identify a specific age demographic: millennials and Gen Z 2. The term was first used as a slur in journalistic circles around 2016, after the release of a book titled, I Find That Offensive, which researched the reasons for teenage ‘millennium babies’ being so ‘thin-skinned’ 3.
But are they really thin-skinned? In early June, J. K. Rowling, the creator of the Harry Potter series, attracted the anger of transgender activists when she tweeted her disquiet about use of the term ‘people who menstruate’ instead of ‘women’ in the headline of an op-ed piece on Devex 4 5. The author of the piece had intentionally avoided the word ‘women’ so as to not offend the gender non-binary readers. Stars of the Harry Potter film franchise like Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson and Eddie Redmayne, all millennials, publicly condemned Rowling’s comments 6. In contrast, Rowling’s tweets received massive support from many women’s rights activists and journalists with a more traditional mindset.
This incident typifies the difference in outlooks between the generations. Other recent issues raised by snowflakes have included casual racism and homophobia in older films, fat shaming in the popular television sitcom Friends and archaic customs and historical traditions that cast ethnic minorities as inferiors or savages.
Fragile and Thin-skinned or Opinionated and Independent?
Based on the above examples, one could argue that snowflakes seem to take offense easily and come across as vocal and self-opinionated. But the same statements could also be viewed as signs of strength, empathy and willingness to demand change.
Despite Tyler Durden’s declaration in Fight Club, snowflakes are unique as a generation. They are the first to have grown up with advanced communication technologies, gaining easy access to smartphones and computers. In turn, easier global communication has meant that people have more contact with other cultures and issues than ever before, allowing an exchange of different ideas quickly, leading to change, a faster evolution in mindsets and greater understanding of the views of others.
Therefore, snowflakes have had opportunities to gain and spread knowledge like no generation before them. They have mastered the art of using and developing technology and taking full advantage of the tools at their disposal, and so naturally expect others, especially those in their workplace, to also be well-versed with these tools 7.
It has been found that they also approach work differently: laying more emphasis on technology, multitasking and collaborative work than any previous generation, and having a more integrated view of organizational structures 3.
Their school years were surrounded by talk of globalization and the dot.com crash, then growing-up and starting work in the recession of 2007-2009, which means that they tend to be more competitive, innovative, individualistic and independent. They display an entrepreneurial spirit and are very autonomous 1. They are willing to take risks too, as reflected by the large number of start-ups all over the world, which are powered or founded by millennials.
Snowflakes: The Present and the Future
This snowflake generation is the present and the future of our workforce and society. This generation will bring with them their desire for personalization, experimentation and learning 8. At the same time, they will try to raise new issues of corporate ethics, diversity and sustainability. A survey conducted by Morgan Stanley found that 95% of millennials show interest in sustainable investing. Further, they would like to invest in causes they believe in 9. In doing so, they seem to be well on their way to re-organizing corporate priorities.
At the same time, the corporate world would like to portray itself as appealing to the snowflake generation. Corporations today understand the potential of the new generations. For example, most major corporations and government organizations now have a diversity department and proclaim themselves to be equal-opportunity employers as a necessary lure to attract the snowflake generation. The corporate world is a reflection of society, and while many traditional companies are still reeling from the accelerated change caused by technological advancement and globalization, some of the biggest corporations in the world (several founded or run by millennials) have been very quick to embrace them. In other words, just like society, companies and their policies must evolve to keep up with the generational change.
Like it or not, the snowflake generation is here to stay. It is only a matter of time before they dominate decision-making, not only in corporations but also in governments and legislatures. As they infiltrate the workforce and assume positions of power, more and more companies will face mounting pressure to change. The shift in corporate culture is already on the horizon and with their proven competitive spirit, willingness to collaborate and knack for innovation, snowflake-ism seems to be a safe destination for the world, even if that does mean more avocado toast and pumpkin-spiced lattes.
Pranay Parsuram completed his master’s in Book and Digital Media Studies from Leiden University, the Netherlands. He has worked as an Assistant Editor at Springer Nature and as an academic and research editor and copyediting quality analyst at an English language solutions provider based in Mumbai. He has also freelanced as a copyeditor, specializing in academic and scientific articles, and has trained a number of other academic copyeditors. He currently works on the editorial team of The Habtic Standard.
Share this article and let us know what you think. We're here to help and answer any questions you might have. Any suggestions or feedback? Let us know what you think and we will use your input for the future improvements.
The return to journalism, the pursuit of truth and the utmost respect for solid, peer-reviewed science. You're just one click away from receiving the best of The Habtic Standard straight to your inbox. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter now and keep up to date with the latest corporate wellbeing insights from our experts around the globe.