Praise and Narcissism: Managing it with Gen Y-ers at Work

Do you find yourself wondering how to be a good leader with the Generation Y workforce? Are the generational differences getting in the way of communicating with one another? If you are experiencing frustration, you can bet they are too!

The discussion of praise came up the other day when I was talking with a colleague. She has children who are in the Gen Y-ers age group and she is a Baby Boomer.

The amount of praise that a Gen Y-er or Millennial requires can be a bit overwhelming. It seems they want to have constant reinforcement for doing something that a Baby Boomer would say is a normal or adequate job. This disconnect between the generations fuels misunderstandings and communication challenges with one another and unless is it is managed successfully; it will drive the younger set to leave your organization.

The big question is, “Where is the balance when working with Gen Y-ers?”

There is some new research that points to how narcissism may play a role in their sense of entitlement. Some call the Gen Y-ers the worse generation, I beg to differ – there is hope.

Let’s be clear, Baby Boomers are not all that innocent. Research places parenting techniques or philosophies as one contributor to cultivating and reinforcing this behavior. The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement by Jean M. Twenge Ph.D. and W. Keith Campbell Ph.D. discuss the cultural shift, its symptoms and possible solutions.

Parents whose emphasis on praise and the avoidance of criticism, corrective action and dealing out consequences may have inadvertently fueled the narcissistic behavior we see today.

Think about the lessons a child learns growing up where differences between skills, abilities and accomplishments are downplayed for fear of hurting someone’s feelings. It was better or easier to avoid the winner vs. loser or right vs. wrong discussion. One overused example cites how competitive organizations award each person a trophy for participation – let’s forget about acknowledging those who work hard and excel.

What lessons are we teaching? Are there some other ways to make people feel good? Will people be ready for the harsh reality that things are not always fair?

Organizations typically have some sort of hierarchical structure. Even in the flattest structures, there are differences in roles, responsibilities and accountability. It is essential that employees know what they can do well and often those lessons are realized in the trial and error of attempting new things. Should we be embracing that failing is OK and how to redirect energy to the things that you are passionate about?

Gen Y-ers tend to want to move up quickly or at the very least be recognized on an equal basis as their peers – even when they fall short. If they lack the ability to critique themselves accurately and accept constructive criticism, the chasm will only deepen with their manager. Maybe this is why Gen Y-ers get bored or restless so quickly – they think they already have it when they don’t.

Not all Gen Y-ers are narcissistic. Their cry for praise may be well deserved.

Dolling out praise is often uncomfortable for Baby Boomers. It does not come naturally and often is only seen as deserving when something exceptional is done by the employee.

When you increase the level and frequency of praise and recognition, it benefits the employee, team and organization. But, dolling out praise too much is not good either.

If we lose the ability to differentiate between what is unacceptable, mediocre, average, very good or outstanding – we will lose in the business world and ultimately in making solid life choices. So how does a manager find the right balance?

There are a couple of ways to approach this situation – bottom line is you have to open the lines of communication with one another. When there is a common understanding on the approach and execution of praise – your employee’s level of satisfaction and productivity will increase tenfold.

What a manager can do

  1. Develop a matrix that identifies the kinds of situations where praise is and where it is not beneficial to both parties. Discuss the matrix with one another at a time when emotions and feelings are calm. Make adjustments as necessary. Gain commitment with both parties and hold each other accountable.
  2. Commission a committee to do #1. Set boundaries and let them develop a strategy and implementation plan.

Gen Y-ers will appreciate being a part of the solution. In the course of finding the best solution for your organization, you will learn what motivates them.

Author: Lynn Dessert

Lynn Dessert is a certified ICF and NLP Coach specializing in Executive Career coaching in Charlotte NC. She works with individuals to accelerate their career advancement and organizations to fast track leadership skill development. Her career eBooks What To Do After Being Fired and The Secrets to Successful Job On-Boarding give you a roadmap to DIY. Start your discovery process by contacting her at 704.412.2852 today.

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