Jamie Oliver: Thinks young Brits are Lazy. Is he right?

Jamie Oliver


Jamie Oliver strikes me as a good guy. But this week he was quoted by the BBC without much context as saying: young British people are “wet behind the ears” and European immigrants are “tougher” workers. It is quite ironic in the week that we are celebrating 50 years since Martin Luther King’s I have a dream speech, that Jamie Oliver could be so loose with his tongue.

On the face of it, it seems to me that his observation can’t possibly be true. If the British were lazy then, it seems unlikely that we would be such a successful country. If the UK had always produced soft lazy young people then we would have fallen behind the rest of Europe a long time ago.

But perhaps he is saying that the current cohort, of young British people is soft and unable to put their shoulder to the wheel.

If his views have been represented accurately, then it seems obvious to me that Jamie Oliver has made the very human mistake of allowing himself to develop a prejudice. No doubt it is a very popular prejudice, and I am sure these statements play well, with the many, many people who hold the same view. This week I also happen to get hit by a torrent of abuse, directed not at me, but at the group I had identified myself as being a part of.

I think I dealt with it sensibly, but I was interested to know how I good have dealt with it more effectively in the future, so have had a quick look at some of the research on prejudice and learned a little more about how we form these misguided views, and why we all fall into this unfortunate trap from time to, to time.

The BBC article suggest that Mr Oliver, complains that he has British 23 year olds getting their mommies to call him up and say that they are over tired. He suggests that he would work a 100 hour week and that by law he can only get his workers to do 48hrs. So by his standards they are doing less than half a week’s work anyway.

I suspect that what he is saying could accurately reflect his observations from his own business. I also admire the fact that he is publically standing up for migrant workers, who are incredibly valuable to our economy. But is it fair to compare the British workers in his kitchens and the Migrant workers and assume that he is looking at two directly comparable groups? Is it also fare to compare the British workers in his kitchens with the foreign workers and assume that he can make a sweeping statement about all young British people based on that observation? And what harm are we doing to our own economy if we allow ourselves to judge all young Brits harshly, based on prejudice, rather than a sober reflection of the facts.

I would argue that Mr Oliver’s Migrant workers have already set themselves apart from their British colleagues. For a Polish young person to get a job in one of Jamie’s restaurants they have to jump a much higher bar. They have to leave their home and their support network, travel 1,600 miles, and master a new language. A local worker just has to summon the energy to write a CV, walk down the road and submit it.

You also have to consider that a driven young British person would likely have been driven at school to get good qualifications. As we are in a developed economy, our most driven young people will be shared out across several industries and may not think that working in the kitchen of Jamie’s Italian, is the best work experience for them to enter one of our professions. Though no doubt, there are some highly motivated, young British people working for Jamie and his statements seem to be doing them a disservice.

It has been amply shown that there is a significant relationship between economic success of residents and their mobility. So this could mean that rich people move more easily. But it probably means people who are willing to move for work improve their circumstances and become richer. I would suggest that his foreign workers are more motivated because they have invested more, and the stakes are much higher for them.

When I tweeted about this earlier in the week only a few of my friends were kind & brave enough to comment back, all who commented were themselves migrants. The most apposite observation was that, Jamie Oliver may prefer migrant workers because they are more easily exploited and that no-one should be obliged to work a 100 hour week.

My very small example of experiencing prejudice happened when I returned a rented van on Tuesday. When I picked up the Van, the branch manager told me he had looked at my website and that Wine Rides was a great idea and that it looked like a really good firm.

When I returned the Van, the manager was there but his colleague checked me back in. I open the back of the van to get my bike out at the start of the inspection and the member of staff told me that he doesn’t like cycling or camping. As it seem good natured at that point I said: “Oh, have you heard what my company does? We organise cycling trips that camp on vinyards?”

He then proceeded to tell me that he didn’t know that, but that he hates cyclists, that he deliberately drives dangerously around them and that when his wife protests he says: “They are more scared of me”, that cyclist shouldn’t be allowed on the roads, they should be made to cycle “in little tunnels, underground”, That “I should try driving” and when I said “I do both” he said “at rush hour!”. After a short while it became clear to me, that this was about torturing me. There wasn’t a mark on the van but he was conscious that I wanted my damage deposit back, so I wasn’t going to effectively counter his arguments while the inspection was taking place. It culminated in him telling me that I should focus my company on responsible cycling because everybody HATES, cyclists and being offered a £5 bet, that if I did a survey, I would find out that EVERYONE HATES cyclists.

So in the end I got my deposit back. And the manager started talking to me about future rentals. At which point I said: “yeah, maybe. To be honest your colleague is a prick. I don’t need a ten minute lecture about how much he hates me and what I do, when I return a vehicle”. Who knows if he was reprimanded for this behaviour? But if he worked for me and treated a client like that it would have resulted in a formal verbal warning.

How is it that people can start to hold such vehement and even violent views about other people?

One possible explanation is the out-group Homogeneity effect. This is the perception that members of an out-group are more similar than members of the in-group. Students were asked to guess what kinds of music members of their own school would like and what members of a rival school would like.

The study reveals that people tend to think there will be less variety in out groups. Effectively Drivers who don’t cycle are more likely to think that “(nearly) all cyclists are the same (personality)” but that someone being a “driver” doesn’t give you any information about their personality at all.

There is also the Justification-Suppression Model of prejudice. This is a really funny concept, and when you see it happening in an angry ranting person it is quite hard not to laugh in their face. The model explains that people face a conflict between the desire to express prejudice and the desire to maintain a positive self concept. This conflict causes people to search for justification for disliking an out-group, and to use that justification to avoid negative feelings about themselves when disliking a group. e.g. “I have seen young people drinking” therefore “they won’t work, and they want everything served up to them on a plate.” Basically: looking for an acceptable way to tar them all with the same brush.

With cyclists and drivers, there is clearly some evidence of The realistic conflict theory. This states that competition between people with limited resources leads to increased negative prejudices and discrimination. Drivers and cyclist are in competition over road space. Young and old are in competition for jobs and the distribution of resources and opportunities.

Additionally, there is the Social Dominance Theory: which states that society can be viewed as group-based hierarchies. In competition for scarce resources such as housing or employment, dominant groups create prejudiced “legitimizing myths” to provide moral and intellectual justification for their dominant position over other groups and validate their claim over the limited resources.

Drivers own the roads and take it as a self-evident fact that this has always been the way, and it should always be the way. The legitimizing myth is that the economy will implode and the sky will fall in if people cycle to work rather than take there almost empty cars. And there are biased merit norms: The young are inexperienced and therefore incapable of being responsible, hard working or diligent.

These myths work to maintain our current prejudiced based hierarchies but are they ultimately helpful?

I suspect, that with the two issues I raze here, work and transport, unless we wake up and smell the coffee and start making decisions based on actual evidence rather than anecdotes we are going to reach uncomfortable tipping points.

My personal view is that the cost of allowing ourselves to remain sedentary will be horrific. Equally not skilling up the younger members of our work force is fine now but when the baby boomers all leave work as they have started to do we will find a terrible financial short fall. This will be further compounded if we pull up the draw bridge and stop talented working age people from other countries from coming here, working and paying taxes.

You may not be a racist, a sexist or homophobic but it would be very unwise to assume that you do not hold any prejudices. Unfortunately it is a very human trait to use the short cut and simplify people into groups that have a mythical shared set of characteristics.

As a result we all walk around with misguided views in our heads. Until we are confronted with reality these prejudices don’t hold us back. It is only when we are met with evidence that challenges our beliefs do our own prejudices become exposed. I don’t think you can free yourself from forming prejudice. What you can do is become much more sensitive to the feelings you experience when someone challenges your misguided views.

We tend to think that winning arguments is a good thing. It makes us feel clever and powerful. But when you lose an argument you actually gain. If my views are unfounded, and someone points that out to me, then I gain a load of knew knowledge, and a more reliable model of how the world works. If I win an argument, I don’t gain any knew knowledge, and I lose the time it took me to explain something to the other person. If you find yourself ranting or mocking someone as a negative stereotype, then you could be doing that from a point of prejudice and you only stand to gain if you stop, and check you have all the facts.

“Everyone’s money is the same colour”. So clearly harbouring prejudice in your head will lose you sales. I know Jamie Oliver is a Titan. He is famous and a successful business man. But in my first year of operating I have already had enquiries from some incredible young British job seekers, who are looking to work in an exciting new company. Maybe it could take years before he notices the effect. But surely making dismissive and prejudiced statements about potential workers will slowly erode his firm’s ability to attract talent and therefore make money.

This week seems like a good one to look at ourselves in the mirror and really question: “Do I judge people by the contents of their character or have I allowed myself to become mentally lazy?”