Generation Y workers are getting a cold dose of reality during this recession: they’re not particularly special after all.
After their indoctrination during the self-esteem movement this may be a bit of a shock, but dispelling this myth will benefit everyone in the long run because when someone thinks they’re special they generally become pushy and demand unwarranted benefits.
Have you seen the “Drill Sergeant Therapist” commercial put out by Geico? A self-pitying patient about the right age to be a Generation Y member exclaims his sadness from the couch. He engenders little sympathy from the therapist who energetically offers to escort the “Jackwagon” on a trip to namby-pamby land in search of some real self-confidence. The therapist then throws a tissue at his sniveling subject, disdainfully calling him a cry baby.
That kind of “tough love” may be the best therapy for the self-indulgent Gen Y’er, no doubt a confused product of the self-esteem movement that emerged in the 1980s. The poor lad was probably brainwashed by mollycoddling teachers into thinking he’s “special,” but when it didn’t pan out that way in this recession, oh, he got so awfully sad.
I’m also sad because I have to deal with these “special” people in the workplace, consoling them lest the fret over not getting the best laptop or an extra PC monitor. I even feel sympathy for our Human Resources department who must deal with their tantrums over not being promoted after completing their vey first assignment.
Over the last 20 years, permissive parents successfully lobbied schools to emphasize self-esteem over accomplishment, but these idealistic efforts to build self-confidence have often gone too far. You’ve probably heard the little tune “Frere Jacques”. Well, many educators tweaked the ditty such: “I am special, I am special. Turn around, you will see. Someone very special, someone very special, yes it’s me, yes it’s me!”
That is the kind of codswallop that leads Generation Y workers to demand a reward system based on little voices in their psyches telling them they’re special, but not based upon merit systems that enable businesses to thrive.
The “I am special” mantra lays the groundwork for unrealistic expectations and may cause cognitive dissonance when the reality hits that only a few of us are truly special. Indeed, namby-pamby land is well represented by sad Millenials — mental health statistics show they are a stressed-out generation.
It’s problematic trying to forge a cohesive work unit from nice, but essentially ordinary workers running around with ill-conceived impressions about their self-worth. It undermines group cohesion when a Gen Y employee complains because our business needs preclude his unusual work schedule demands, or that our career management systems don’t instantly recognize how special he is.
Workplace surveys consistently show that Gen Y employees perform poorly compared to Baby Boomers. Many surveys highlight troubles assimilating Gen Y employees into the workplace, suggesting they bring as many unique challenges as strengths to the workplace.
The challenges that narcissist Generation Y employees bring to the workplace are exacerbated during tough economic times, and the candidate they overwhelmingly supported is not helping. Indeed, President Obama just appointed Elizabeth Warren, an outspoken enemy of Wall Street, to launch the Consumer Protection Financial Bureau.
Less deficit spending, less regulation and more business- friendly policies from our government might give employers more flexibility in accommodating the demands of special employees.
It would also enhance our worker productivity if teachers would send us fewer namby-pambies. They should reward superior performance instead of imbuing everyone with Pollyannaish notions, but I won’t hold my breath. Unions are well entranced in public education and are inclined to protect bad performers. Al Shanker, a recent president of the American Federation of Teachers showed his priorities, saying “I don’t represent the children. I represent the teachers.”
Pending a shift in societal norms, we can at least remedy the symptoms. Awareness in attitudinal differences between generations will enable us to direct scarce training resources to programs that install self-confidence founded upon hard work and accomplishment, not self-entitlement.
In the meantime, there is one special benefit to the great economic recession: faced with layoffs instead of promotion, Gen Y workers are adopting a stronger work ethic and are gradually becoming more amenable to direction. Let’s hope they keep it up when we’re able to hire again. By Noel S. Williams.