Cross-Generational Offices: Is Gen Y Narcissistic?

As regular readers may know, I’ve been reading Tamara Erickson’s book, Retire Retirement:  Career Strategies for the Boomer Generation, which is scheduled for release on March 10th.  One of the most fascinating aspects of the book is Erickson’s description of how each generation’s influences (society and culture, formative teen years, etc.) impact who they are as people, and consequently, how they tend to interact in the workplace.  (Stay tuned for a complete review.)

So, today, when I saw Erickson’s article, Gen Y:  Really All That Narcissistic? in BusinessWeek.com, one message really resonated:  In the workplace, it’s valuable to consider our colleagues’ backgrounds and upbringing in order to interact successfully. 

Unlike in life, where we can choose our friends, we don’t always have a choice about co-workers.   Cross-generational workplaces are the norm in most cases, and (per Erickson’s research) will continue to be the norm as Boomers continue to participate in the paid working world long after the traditional retirement age. 

So, what should we know about Gen Y?

Erickson describes research that tags Gen Y as “30 percent more narcissistic in 2006 than was the average student in 1982.”  Dr. Jean Twenge, professor of psychology at the University of San Diego, came to this conclusion by analyzing data from an inventory that asks participants to rate themselves based on statements such as “I think I am a special person.”

Having been raised by parents who have been telling them how special they are for their entire lives, it would seem odd for Gen Y respondents NOT to agree that they are special!  I would suggest that a parent might worry if their young person rates themselves low on the “special” scale. 

Erickson points out that this is a shift in our perceptions.  She observes, “In 1982, saying that you were a “special person” would have been a fairly odd thing to do.” 

So, Gen Y members were raised to believe they are special.  They also have a propensity for praise, having grown accustomed to regular positive feedback.  As workers, they may expect supervisors to shower them with compliments and attention.  Boomers and Gen Xers may see Gen Y as spoiled or lazy (expecting praise for the smallest accomplishment). 

Erickson’s book points out that Boomers have only themselves to blame.  After all, they were the ones passing out trophies to winners and “not winners,” and giving their Gen Y children the sense of entitlement they now resent in the workplace.

So, Boomer and Gen X bosses can be more sensitive to the fact that their Gen Y employees thrive on praise.  Gen Y employees can appreciate that workers from previous generations don’t think that “excessive” praise is necessary in the workplace.  A little understanding can go a long way!

PS – Tammy Erickson’s next book targets Gen Y – Plugged In:  The Generation Y Guide to Thriving at Work, is expected in November 2008.

Keppie Careers can help you at any stage of your career.  We’ll write your resume and coach you through the job hunt:  www.keppiecareers.com

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