Gen Y boosts the prima donna effect in the office

Are today’s young people entering the workforce with an unrealistic idea of their worth and the rewards it should bring? As we know, there has always been the odd prima donna around the office -- the type of person who feels entitled to preferential treatment, who also tends to take the credit for good outcomes and blame others when things go wrong -- but research from the University of New Hampshire in the US finds that Gen Y has more than its fair share.

“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. 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,” says Paul Harvey, a professor of management.

The same trait was noted by Wall Street Journal contributor Ron Alsop in a book published last year.

Now, why would that be? Harvey provides a clue. He suggests that prospective employees could be asked: “Do you feel you are generally superior to your co-workers/classmates/etc., and if so, why?”

“If the candidate answers yes to the first part but struggles with the ‘why,’ there may 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.” 

In other words, parents, teachers and others have carefully avoided telling them anything negative whatsoever: that their wonderful sandcastle was not solely their own work but that their big sister did quite a lot of it; that they got their maths problems wrong; that cleaning their own room does not deserve a handsome reward.

But it’s not just young people who fall into this trap, making them prone to conflicts in the workplace and less likely to enjoy their job; Harvey reckons that the narcissistic entitlement attitude may have played a part in the recent corporate scandals:

“A great source of frustration for people with a strong sense of entitlement is unmet expectations. 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 behaviours like manipulating performance data to achieve higher bonuses, which have been linked to many of the problems we’ve seen recently."

Then again, there is probably a bit of the prima donna in all of us. Says Harvey:

“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.” ~ Newswise, Apr 27



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