Yes, says new research that actually yielded data to back up this theory. In a series of studies using surveys that measure psychological entitlement and narcissism, University of New Hampshire management professor Paul Harvey found that Gen Y respondents scored 25 percent higher than respondents ages 40 to 60 and a whopping 50 percent higher than those over 61. In addition, Gen Ys were twice as likely to rank in the top 20 percent in their level of entitlement – what he refers to as the “highly entitled range” – as someone between 40 and 60, and four times more likely than a golden-ager.
In one recent article about this study, Harvey was quoted as saying, “As a group, Gen Yers are characterized by a very inflated sense of self that leads to unrealistic expectations and ultimately chronic disappointment.” He went on to further elaborate, “Making matters worse, today’s 20-somethings have an automatic, knee-jerk reaction to criticism. They often tend to dismiss it, even if they fail miserably at a job… they still think they’re great at it.”
Of course, we all know that there’s another side to this coin. Although entitlement might exist, Gen Yers exhibit a much greater sense of idealism than other generational groups and demonstrate this through a commitment to giving back to our society. Right? Not so, according to another study which will be published in the Journal of Management in September. Co-author Stacy Campbell, an assistant professor of management at Kennesaw State University, says the study revealed “That when it comes to work, the two things Gen Yers care most are a) high salaries and b) lots of leisure time off. “ All of this data comes from an ongoing survey of high school students conducted annually since 1975 by the University of Michigan.
After reading through these studies, the question I asked myself (over and over again) is why? Where exactly does this over blown feeling of privilege come from? I continued to conduct some more research and then also used a little common sense from what I live through on a day to day basis with my kids, to offer up my own subjective conclusions.
For starters, the author who I referenced above (Stacy Campbell) presented up an interesting anecdote. She believes that one symbolic answer can be found in the simple way that children’s songs are reworked. As an example, the words to age old elementary school song “Frere Jacques” have been changed throughout many school systems. Instead, children sing “I am special, I am special” to this familiar tune. Campbell believes that entitlement “gets ingrained in the formative years” because society is so focused on constantly reinforcing to all kids just how great they are. Personally, I think positive reinforcement to children is important. But, I understand her point about how this sometimes unwarranted building of self-esteem can hide the ugly truth that not everyone is great.
In my world, I see other manifestations that have me concerned. When I was a kid, we started to compete in sports and even in our studies at a fairly early age. For example, I can remember as early as fourth grade, the fun addition and subtraction math quizzes our class would take every week. Our teacher would time us to see who finished a 50 question quiz the quickest with the fewest mistakes. The kids who came in first, second and third would receive some type of prize and we’d all have fun going through the exercise. Our sports programs did much of the same by handing out trophies to those teams which typically came in the top four spots in the leagues. A special, larger trophy was always given to the first place team.
I believe that this early competition was important because it created a critical trait needed in life – the will to win. More importantly, it ingrained key attributes in our head, like working hard and playing as a team. Those would be critical factors needed to be able to win.
Today, I see the exact opposite philosophies being taught to my kids. And, I don’t like it. Kids as old as 10, 11 and 12 years old are involved in some sports teams where no one keeps score, no one loses and everyone is taught that “you are all winners.” In the end, everyone receives a trophy for anything… even if that kid never shows up. Sorry, but that just doesn’t work for me. Sure, I understand that too much competition at an early age can be detrimental. Believe me, I am not one of those fathers that makes sure his kids win at all costs. That’s absurd. But, I truly believe that this “everyone is a winner” principle has gone way too far and now we’re seeing its effect years later in some of our Generation Yers.
For example, in some cases, instead of focusing on whether they are helping to play a role in ensuring that their company win, there is too much focus on “Why am I not being promoted or making more money?” And, instead of showcasing the necessary skill set to compete successfully in the corporate arena, some simply spend too much time worrying and complaining about why others are ‘winning’ faster than them.
Last Saturday, I gave a speech to business students at Drew University on the topic of leadership in uncertain times. The students there also had to give presentations to us on a specific business each had researched thoroughly. In a fun American Idol format, each had to overcome a specific organizational challenge by convincing us how the business would be turned around to compete more successfully. I loved the day and thought the presentations were smart and insightful and, more importantly, these young adults showed us that they really were ready to compete. Although most of my speech was focused on management leadership, I did take a few minutes at the end to give some thoughts on why “perspiration is just as important as inspiration” in our workforce. I told them that life isn’t fair. And, they shouldn’t expect anything to be handed to them in the business world. I also stated that just as the generations before them had worked extremely hard to rise to their positions, they expected the same from them over the next few years. The students seemed to appreciate my candor.
I really don’t believe it when CEOs tell me that this is the worst generation. And, I certainly see real positive examples at my firm every day that support this. I’d just like to see a little less focus on “me” and a little more care about “we” in the years ahead.