Innovation

Are you ready for the praise-craving next generation?

In order to get to the point of this blog I have to relate some tedious personal info. Bear with me.

Basically, my husband thinks he's the center of the universe. This is due in large part to the fact that he was the youngest child with three much older sisters. Though he was not spoiled in the traditional sense—the family didn't have much money—he was spoiled indirectly due to the inordinate amount of attention bestowed upon his every move.

If he performs some chore around the house (that I usually do without any fanfare), he expects me to have a tickertape parade in his honor. It's not that he thinks he's better than anyone else, it's just that the standard mode of being for him is, as I said, solidly in the center of the known universe. I have done my best in the years of our marriage to disavow him of that notion. (It's slow going, but I feel it is my civic duty.) 

So imagine how vindicated I felt when I read an article by Jeffrey Zaslow in the Wall Street Journal Online that talks about a parenting style that has become the vogue for the last 20 years or so, in which children are praised out of proportion to their accomplishments in order to nurture healthy egos. (My sisters-in-law were apparently way ahead of their time.) Zaslow says, "Childhood in recent decades has been defined by ego stroking — by parents who see their job as building self-esteem, by soccer coaches who give every player a trophy, by schools that used to name one "student of the month" and these days name 40."

Now that these kids are of working age, he says, corporations may find themselves having to lavish compliments on employees and perform public displays of appreciation.

After I read that, I had this mental image of a 20-something, who has just fixed a frozen screen by rebooting a computer, surrounded by a crowd of supervisors roaring with applause and throwing bouquets of roses at his feet. But actually it's more serious than that. Zaslow quotes Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, who says that excessive praise in childhood can result in narcissistic adults. And such behavior can have economic, labor, and social ramifications. She says, "Narcissists aren't good at basking in other people's glory, which makes for problematic marriages and work relationships."

I do believe there are a great many younger workers out there whose grandiose images of themselves far eclipse the reality. But there are a great many older workers who do too. But a lot of kids fresh out of college these days think they should be CIOs in three years because they are brilliant (and because their moms told them so).

Despite Zaslow's claims that the corporate world will need to readjust for these newcomers, I don't see that happening, not considering that the prevailing culture seems to be "If you don't like it here, you can leave." I'd like to hear from newcomers and oldtimers alike on this matter. Do you think Zaslow is right?

About Toni Bowers

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

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