Gen Y still think the world owes them a living

Apr 28 2009 by Nic Paton Print This Article

Even in the deepest of recessions anyone at any age can feel resentful that their talents have been overlooked and believe they deserve a promotion or pay rise. And that's particularly true if you are a Generation Y graduate.

Research by academics at the University of New Hampshire has yet again pointed the finger at the "entitlement generation" - Generation Y up-and-coming graduate recruits - arguing that they are more likely to feel entitled to preferential treatment in the workplace, even when their sentiments are undeserved.

But for the rest of us watching in fascinated horror at the cavalier attitudes of many new graduates in the workplace, there is at least some consolation.

Not only will such entitlement junkies run into greater conflicts and arguments at work, therefore probably hindering the very progression they feel they so deserve, they may well end up miserable to boot.

That's according to Paul Harvey, assistant professor of management at the university of New Hampshire, and Mark Martinko at Florida State University, who found that people who felt entitled to preferential treatment more often than not exhibited "self-serving attributional" styles, or the tendency to take credit for good outcomes and blame others when things go wrong.

Such people were also generally less happy in their jobs and more apt to cause conflict in the workplace, especially with their supervisors, they argued.

According to Harvey, younger workers and Generation Y employees were more apt to feel entitled in this way.

"Managers have reported a lot of problems associated with this primarily that these employees have unrealistic expectations and a strong resistance toward accepting negative feedback," he said.

"Basically entitlement involves having an inflated view of oneself, and managers are finding that younger employees are often very resistant to anything that doesn't involve praise and rewards," he added.

It is, of course, by no means the first time Generation Y has been criticised for its workplace attitudes, though some argue it is mostly simply down to Generation X, now predominantly the managers in the workplace, forgetting what they were like at the same age.

Back in August last year, for example, a survey by Princeton-based consultants BlessingWhite argued that employees born since 1980 were the least engaged workers of any in the workplace, with the only exception being younger workers in India.

And a year ago, consultancy firm Accenture argued that, while American college graduates were more worried about the tougher jobs market that awaited them, three quarters still said this would in no way compromise their demands on salary, access to flexible working, training and foreign assignments.

In fact, the notion of an "entitlement generation" was already well established as far back as 2005, when Wayne Hochwater, associate professor of management at Florida State University's College of Business, suggested that younger employees (those aged 30 and younger) reported a greater perceived sense of entitlement than older workers (those aged 50 and older).

The latest New Hampshire research, published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior, found that "self-serving attributional styles" tended to thrive in environments with a high level of ambiguity.

One way therefore to combat the threat from a co-worker with self-serving bias was simply to document and collect evidence that could be useful in establishing who was responsible for positive and negative results.

"If you fear a co-worker might take credit for something good you've done, it's smart to keep evidence of your involvement in the outcome. For example, an email from a stakeholder thanking you for your effort or performance on a task that can be used to refute the claims of a coworker trying to take credit for what you have accomplished," Harvey said.

"It's also important to remember that even relatively objective people often have a slight self-serving bias. So before engaging a co-worker for blaming you for a problem you feel you did not create or taking credit for a good outcome you think you are responsible for, it might be smart to make sure you're being totally honest with yourself, too," he added.

The Generation Y challenge was a real issue for many managers, even though recessionary pressures were forcing more workers to lower their sights and expectations, he argued.

"Managers have reported a lot of problems associated with this primarily that these employees have unrealistic expectations and a strong resistance toward accepting negative feedback," said Harvey.

"Basically entitlement involves having an inflated view of oneself, and managers are finding that younger employees are often very resistant to anything that doesn't involve praise and rewards," he added.

Just as intriguingly, Harvey argued that entitlement attitudes could have played a part in some of the recent corporate scandals.

Entitlement, he pointed out, is often thought of as a component of narcissism. Narcissists believe that they are worthy of a certain level of respect and rewards, and they are determined to get that level of respect and reward, no matter what.

"A great source of frustration for people with a strong sense of entitlement is unmet expectations," said Harvey.

"They often feel entitled to a level of respect and rewards that aren't in line with their actual ability and effort levels, and so they might not get the level of respect and rewards they are expecting. They feel cheated and might try to obtain rewards they feel they are entitled to through unconventional, unethical means.

"This might involve behaviors like manipulating performance data to achieve higher bonuses, which have been linked to many of the problems we've seen recently," he added.

What managers needed to do was to remove opportunities for employees to claim false and undeserved credit, he recommended.

Managers should, ideally, be documenting who does what so that credit and blame can be accurately determined. Managers should also be making sure everyone understands the organisational structure so that they understand who is responsible for what.

Employers also needed to be screening the entitlement levels of would-be new recruits, Harvey argued.

For example, a hiring manager could ask a prospective employee: "Do you feel you are generally superior to your coworkers/classmates/etc, and if so, why?"

If the candidate answered "yes" to the first part but struggled with the "why" there might be an entitlement issue.

"This is because entitlement perceptions are often based on an unfounded sense of superiority and deservingness. They've been led to believe, perhaps through overzealous self-esteem building exercises in their youth, that they are somehow special but often lack any real justification for this belief," said Harvey.


Older Comments

It's unbelievable how transparently bitter you are. It wasn't Gen Y's wasteful habits and consumer-driven culture that got us to where we are today - it was the abandonment of any kind of values by the Boomer Generation. Stop pawning your weaknesses on us.


You seem to proving his statements by your responses: Playing the blame game card.


It's been said that GenY's don't respect or offer respect like previous generations (Boomer's, GenX) did, which was to assume someone deserves respect unless there is a specific reason to withhold it. GenY's on the other hand, take the position that someone must first earn respect and then it must be maintained or it will be withdrawn. The interesting thing about this paradigm is that, in my experience, GenY's seen to demand respect and are more upset at any perceived lack of respect than the older generations. For contextual purpose and in the name of full disclosure, I'm an early GenXer (50 yo). A further observation is that GenY's seem to have a similar attitude towards Love, Friendship and Family, where those principles which were assumed by Boomers & Xers, to be inviolate for anything other than a truly horrendous reason, are as easily disposed of, be it Parents, Siblings, even School friends for perceived wrongs, failures to understand, bad parenting decisions and even financial failure by their standards.

Hopeful Australia

Children who are raised to think they are somehow special - irrespective of their actual accomplishments - inevitably develop a host of problems relating to the world and others around them when conditions become more realistic. Those who are entitled eliminate themselves as viable competition in an economy that is increasingly more tenuous. This effectively opens the door for high achievers to thrive, and we can't thank you enough! While my peers live paycheque to paycheque, struggle with weight problems due to sheer laziness, can't seem to find a loving committed partner, and still struggle with the most basic concepts such as personal responsibility and empathy, I have multiple graduate degrees, an esteemed career, a multi-million dollar estate, a chiselled physique, a husband who loves me dearly and treats me like gold, and it's all my fault!!!! Thanks to all of you to so willingly paled in comparison, I couldn't have done it without you :)

College/ University Professor Toronto, Canada