Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Gen Y’ers Are Special Cases

October 8th, 2010 | Noel S. Williams

Image: Noel S. WilliamsHave you seen the “Drill Sergeant Therapist” commercial put out by Geico?  A self-pitying patient who looks like 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, who looks like a confused product of the self-esteem movement.   The poor lad was probably brainwashed by mollycoddling teachers into thinking he’s “special,” but when it didn’t pan out that way in the real world, 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!”  This 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 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 are generally poor performers.  Many highlight troubles assimilating Gen Y employees into the workplace, suggesting they bring as many unique challenges as strengths to the workplace.

Survey results corroborate my anecdotal experiences.  My work unit was cohesive, productive and stable… until two special people joined us.  One of our newest colleagues was a Gen Y’er whose first of many peccadilloes was to erect a conspicuous  sign in her cube proclaiming “I am special.”

Established employees whose innovation and productivity created her new position wanted action; they wanted proof of her specialness, not just obtrusive signs.  Unfortunately, the self-esteem movement which forged her notion of self-importance didn’t provide her with commensurate skills.  It didn’t help that her overinflated ego led to demands for perks normally assigned to someone approaching retirement.

Our second special recruit was an equally misguided male whose highfalutin attitude was preposterously misplaced. Despite numerous efforts at remedial training and counseling, human resources eventually aided him with some outplacement services.

Attitudinal differences between generations are complex and I’m not special enough to offer an antidote.  Perhaps a bit of authoritative parenting would keep potential namby-pambies away from drill-sergeant therapists; more importantly, away from my workplace.  Educators could also toughen up a bit, perhaps even rewarding superior performance instead of imbuing everyone with Pollyannaish notions.

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 more amenable to direction.  Let’s hope they keep it up when we’re able to hire again.

This article was originally published on Recruiting Trends.

About the Author: Noel S. Williams currently enjoys work as an Information Technology Specialist.  While he also holds a master’s degree in Human Resource Management, it is his training as Jedi Knight that gives him the fortitude to delve into the dark side of workplace unfairness.

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