Gen Y – we ruined you

Gen Y – we ruined you

Gen Y, I’m sure you’ve noticed you’ve been much maligned in the workplace. As a group, you’ve been described as self-involved narcissists with an overblown sense of entitlement. From my experience as an employer and successful entrepreneur for over 25 years, I would have to say, I agree with that assessment.

In my career of serial entrepreneurism, I’ve hired, fired and led approximately 700 people of all ages. I’ve hired and supervised people in their 20’s, people in their 70’s and every age in between. I”m not going to sugarcoat it. Gen Y, you’re different, and not in the good way. Except for the rare exception here or there, as employees you generally fall short.. You do not have sufficient commitment to the job, you leave early, you need constant praise for the most meager of accomplishments and you are under the mistaken presumption that participation (ie: showing up) is enough.

gen y

But it’s not your fault. We made you this way. When I say we, I mean my generation of baby boomers who parented, educated and coached you. We did a crummy job.

It was well meaning of course, but we ruined you by following the tenets of the remarkably stupid “self-esteem” movement. There have been thousands of articles written about self esteem between the 1970’s and 2000, most of which suggested that self esteem was an essential component of success in everything from school to marriage to career to sex. By the early 90’s , to make sure that all children felt good about themselves, teachers were careful to pronounce every finger painting a Picasso, schools dropped honor rolls because it was thought they were too hurtful to the kids that didn’t make them, little leagues stopped keeping score, and trophies were given out to every kid at the end of the season. There was an army of educators, mental health professionals, and authors who convinced parents that in order for your kid to function happily in the world, we needed to make them feel good about themselves, even absent any measurable accomplishment.

The problem is it backfired horribly. Here is the science. In 2003 a professor at Univ. of Florida, Roy Baumeister PHD, led a team which reviewed 15,000 major studies on self esteem. Most of them didn’t meet the scientific standards for setting up studies. Of those that did, none of them showed that having an artificially pumped up self esteem did anything for you. It didn’t help grades, or career achievement, or relationships. To the contrary, trying to pump up someone’s self worth with perpetual pep talks can backfire. Pumping someone else up so they feel good about themselves 100 percent of the time, makes an overinflated ego that’s completely vulnerable to one good pinprick. When people are always told they brilliant for doing nothing, they regard effort as a sign of stupidity. When people have been overpraised through life, when they hit a real challenge, they panic or quit. They can’t manage frustration and they can’t handle challenging situations constructively.

Bestowing self esteem upon someone is, it turns out, a load of crap. Self-mastery is the key, but I’ll talk about that in a future blog.

I’m sorry. We ruined you. We lied to you. You aren’t special. Yeah, OK-you’re special to us, your mom and dad, but not to the world. Not yet.

You weren’t born bad. We ruined you. In my view it is perhaps the biggest disservice the baby boomer generation has committed. We raised a generation of non-competitive whiners, woefully unprepared for the hard knocks world.

We ruined you, but you must fix yourselves. Assuming you want to be valued, be given challenging assignments at work, grow in your field, make more money and have more stature in your career, you must fix yourselves.

Lets start small, with three easy to identify ways to increase your value at work.

1. Don’t underestimate the human connection. We know you’ve been raised on technology, but most of the people still running the workplace came of age before the digital revolution. A handshake and good eye contact will still leave a better impression than an email. Learn how to make a phone call to a stranger. Go down the hall and check in with your boss, colleague or coworker in person every so often. Be present.

2. When you have a complaint or a problem, have a solution. Plopping a problem on your bosses desk like a dead squirrel and staring at it is not helpful. Have a solution. Even if your solution is deficient, we will appreciate your attempt at developing one.

3. Recognize that participation counts for almost nothing in the real world. Nope, you don’t receive a raise, a promotion or congratulations for showing up and putting in the time. A near imbecile can do that. Find a way to excel, which means to surpass your peers with your work product, skill and attitude. Do it consistently over time, and your raises and promotions will come.

Leslie Gold is a successful entrepreneur as well as a provocative radio talk show host on the Fox News Radio Network. In her ‘spare’ time, she is the Executive Producer of the production of The Gong Show Live Off Broadway production in NYC. Insightful and direct, her mantra is “I don’t sugarcoat.” Find out more at or



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