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Millennials, Ethics and Governance

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Sunday Akin Olukoju 
June 7, 2016


In the United States, the sheer size of millennials and their propensity for mass information dissemination could greatly impact the role of governance. This article will assess the implications of millennials’ perceived view of ethics on governance since, “Governance denotes transparency, clarity, accountability, participation, effectiveness, respect to law and social responsibility,” according to Mengü, Güçdemir, Ertürk and Canan. Moreover, this article will raise a few pertinent questions as it highlights the serious implications of the roles played by three Americans who belong to this group.

Case of a double-edged sword?

DeVaney, in a 2015 Journal of Financial Service Professionals article titled “Understanding the Millennial Generation,” identified 77 million U.S. millennials as “creative, solution-focused, socially conscious and team-oriented.” However, “The Deloitte Millennial Survey 2016” also noted a “perceived lack of leadership-skill development and feelings of being overlooked, loyalty challenge, the desire for flexibility and a conflict of values among the nearly 7,700 surveyed Millennials from 29 countries during September and October 2015.”

SO - Double-EdgedSword 3

The tendency for creativity and flexibility could open up new frontiers and generate innovative ideas. It could also be a slippery slope if marred by ‘conflict of values’ and ‘loyalty challenge.’ Millennials’ assets that will enrich governance include a “consumer mentality” that will seek to understand and serve the public, “collaboration” that will work across the aisle, “goal orientation” that will raise goal-setters and go-getters, “a highly educated” governance approach that will deploy science judiciously to unravel mysteries, “a multitasking, fast and optimistic” approach that will raise the bar on productivity, and “a technically savvy and tenacious” modus operandi that will be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely.

The Ethics Resource Center’s 2011 “National Business Ethics Survey” found that millennials “lack basic literacy fundamentals,” which could mean inadequate preparation; “very short attention spans,” which could lead to corporate confusion; and were “not loyal to organization,” which could lead to disaster. Others have identified “lack of discipline,” which could lead to mismanagement; “high expectations and lack of skills for dealing with difficult people,” which could lead to corporate revolt.

According to Green and Holbert, “The world of millennials has the potential to be a creative, interconnected and dynamic one, but it also provides low-cost virtual outlets for frustration and discontent.” Could this explain why three American millennials exploited this low-cost virtual outlet to vent their frustrations or were they just three cases of tech-savvy goons gone bad?

U.S. millennials: Ethics of heretics?

Why did Adrian Lamo chose the path of “breaking into several high-profile computer networks, including those of The New York Times, Yahoo!, and Microsoft?” Lamo blew the whistle and reported U.S. soldier PFC Bradley Manning (now known as Chelsea Manning) to federal authorities for leaking sensitive U.S. government documents to WikiLeaks.Was this a case of tech-savvy gone bad, adventure, revenge against a loathed system or outright craving for media attention?

Edward Snowden is a former Central Intelligence Agency employee and former contractor for the United States government. Could hr be an apostle of “ethics of discontent” when he copied and leaked classified information despite the dangers and consequences that could affect millions of people worldwide? Was he driven by the ethics governing a whistle-blower or was he being a reckless, thoughtless, vengeful millennial struggling with loyalty challenge?

Chelsea Elizabeth Manning, a United States Army soldier, was charged with violations of the Espionage Act and other offenses. Manning ddivulged to WikiLeaks nearly three-quarters of a million classified or unclassified but sensitive military and diplomatic documents. Are her actions excusable or is this the ethics of a heretic?

The actions of Lamo, Snowden and Manning possibly hamper, rather than help global governance. Could this be a sign that we should expect more betrayals of trust from tech-savvy millennials?


It will be unfair to use these three individuals as a yardstick to judge millennials across the board. However, wisdom dictates that the positive core values of millennials be jealously guided and guarded to avert misuse or abuse. For example, their drive for achievement should not be at the expense of breaking the rule.

Tolerance for diversity should not become standing for nothing or becoming everything and having no specific identity. Being tech-savvy should not be a skill for hacking or heckling. Optimism should not become a license for taking reckless risks. Being highly competitive and finding oneself in the hot seat of governance should not be an avenue for unreasonable activism.

Author: Sunday Akin Olukoju, Ph.D. is the president of Canadian Center for Global Studies, a nonprofit organization and also teaches at Athabasca University in Alberta, Canada. Olukoju can be reached at [email protected]

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One Response to Millennials, Ethics and Governance

  1. Yisa A Reply

    June 10, 2016 at 6:49 pm

    The context of this review is quite profound. Thank you for the thoughtful outline and engrossing references!

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