I like to think the millennial age of entitlement ran amok when a sports entrepreneur invented T-Ball so every mini little leaguer could actually hit the ball and feel validated during a game. Maybe these kids are just too young to play team sports and should be left to enjoy the things they do well at the pre-school age. But instead we put the ball on a T, and everybody gets to hit and there are no losers. Both teams are awarded trophies and the kids don't learn what sportsmanship is all about or how to lose graciously. And so, the potential for entitlement begins.
High Schools across the nation are boasting multiple valedictorians and rampant grade inflation on the university level is fueling out of control honors increases. Earning the top student award is no longer a singular achievement and school administrators say that recognizing multiple top students reduces pressure and competition among students. Joe Prisinsano, the Principal for Jericho High School with its famed seven Valedictorians for the class of 2010 says that awarding multiple honors is a more equitable way to recognize achievement, particularly when No. 1 and No. 5 are only separated by the smallest fraction of a grade.
Getting into an undergraduate institution is more competitive than ever. Many of the college bound students of today also had to earn their way into elite prep schools in order to be ready for the admissions scrutiny on the university level. They worked hard, earned the grades and are now heading out into the world-of-work. But for all the academic accomplishments they have earned, many lack the humility, social graces, and emotional intelligence to succeed in the professional arena. We have created a plethora of entitled individuals who believe that the world owes them a great career (and in some cases, a lot of money) just because they earned top grades.
Attitudes Out of Control
Having worked with university students for over a decade, I want to be clear that not all students are entitled but the crop of inflated egos and unacceptable behavior is on-the-grow. Some of the top student awards go to well balanced and socially acceptable individuals who have embraced a healthy dose of humility. These young professionals will be hired quickly in the workplace because in addition to the smarts, they have the emotional intelligence to be good colleagues. In a nutshell - they have ability without attitude.
I work with recruiters and employers in different career sectors around the country and many are complaining about the entitled career bound generation. They have no tolerance for bad attitudes and poor manners because happily there is always a full package candidate with a positive attitude who will be a better fit for their organization close by. Employers are even willing to take less than stellar grades if it comes with a professional demeanor, a strong work ethic and a candidate who will respond well to constructive criticism. Grades are no longer the only ticket to the most coveted entry-level jobs and I believe this is a good thing.
Marty Klaper, retired Career Development Officer and Partner at Ice Miller, LLP shared that entitlement attitudes from young attorneys are not tolerated in the legal arena.
"The mistake most frequently made by young lawyers with an entitlement problem stems from their belief that the prime developmental assignments will be handed to them or at worst, evenly distributed. Since prime developmental opportunities are almost always awarded to the people who are without an entitlement problem and who aggressively pursue those opportunities, the folks with an entitlement problem are generally disproportionately represented in the attrition statistics."
The School of Self Esteem
While I truly believe that owning one's humble confidence and functioning in life with strong self esteem is very important, I know that the entitled generation of millennials needs some re-programming if they are going to survive and thrive in the workplace. We are not serving them well to let them get away with this poor behavior. Often they face harsh reality checks in the workplace when they are knocked down several pegs for behaving inappropriately or not playing well on the company team. The first performance review can be emotionally debilitating because they have never received truthful feedback about what they lack or need to improve upon.
Amy Hume, Recruiter for Hume & Resources has seen her fair share of entitled candidates in the recruiting world.
"Show me you have smarts and a strong work ethic, and I'm interested. Show me you have a winning attitude, and I'm sold. We don't need candidates who can't get past their own egos to realize it's not about what we can do for them, but what they can do for the company."
If you have twenty or thirty-somethings in your midst who suffer from entitlement, I hope you will join the cause to steer them onto a more well-balanced and career acceptable attitude track. Whether you are a parent, a teacher, school administrator, employer, or mentor - we can all lend a hand to help these individuals succeed. The outrageous attitudes will only be tolerated for so long until they enter a world where grades and past accomplishments do not outweigh performance and ability on the job.
Here are some top competencies that are sought after by employers that the entitled need to refine if they are going to be successful in the work world.
• Self-awareness - The ability to recognize your own emotions and how they affect your thoughts and behavior, know your strengths and weaknesses, and exhibit humble self-confidence.
• Self-management - The ability to control impulsive feelings and behaviors, manage your emotions in healthy ways, take initiative, follow through on commitments, and adapt to changing circumstances.
• Social awareness - The ability to understand the emotions, needs, and concerns of other people, pick up on emotional cues, feel comfortable socially, and recognize the power dynamics in a group or organization.
• Relationship management - The ability to develop and maintain good relationships, communicate clearly, inspire and influence others, work well on a team, and manage conflict.
The me generation may have developed individuals who believe they can conquer the world. They are smart, they work hard, and they have always been told that they are the best. But the tough lesson they need to learn is that they still need to play well with others in the professional sandbox. I believe the entitled generation is salvageable. What amazing potential these young people have if they can refine their attitudes, embrace their emotional intelligence and eat a slice of humble pie.
Caroline Dowd-Higgins pens a career transition blog called "This Is Not the Career I Ordered" (www.notthecareeriordered.com). She is also the Director of Career & Professional Development at Indiana University Maurer School of Law.