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



  1. we are sorry that you feel this way. i think the post is meant to be light-hearted and funny in a sort of self-deprecating way.

  2. As the author, I’ll say it definitely was meant to be light hearted and explain cause and effect as I saw it. And be helpful with the three tips at the end. The column was picked up other places and got positive responses that indicate the tone was well understood. I’m just beginning to send blogs over to Project Eve. If my tone isn’t appropriate here, please someone let me know. Not looking to offend anyone. I’m just seeking to be provocative, insightful and somewhat entertaining.

  3. Leslie, As the co-founder of Project Eve I find your blogs to be highly entertaining. I think your content, tone and message are engaging and insightful.

  4. The “we made you that way” is very gracious. Why accept any responsibility? Think a few too many pep talks messed up someone? We all know the people who got plenty of peptalks and they are on step away from a FemBot, and others who are one step away from a sloth. Taking an opposite extreme, I know many individuals who left horrific home circumstances as teenagers and are some of the most successful people I know ON EARTH. I believe ardently in the power of the individual, and the traits of that individual.

    Your lessons at the bottom here are just great lessons. – plain and simple – for any generation.

    Bring your A game and play well with others and you’re ahead of the game, or very possibly making the game. But, as you mention Leslie, bringing your B or C game and whining all the way or failing to problem-solve is a quick ticket to the bottom of the pile – for anyone.

    Oh, and p.s., no one understood Gen X (my generation) when we were younger and now we’re known as the maniacs with no work life balance. Just sayin’

  5. As a member of Gen y, I agree 100% with your analysis of me and my peers. Yes, we were brought up in a world where “everybody wins,” which is all kinds of unrealistic and I’ve watched it cripple many of my colleagues on their trip up the proverbial corporate ladder. I can only hope that I’m defying the entitlement trap one work day at a time. Nicely written!

  6. I did not agree with this article though enjoyed reading it. Way to broad in its approach and certainly did not represent all of the Gen Y. How could it. I felt the write wanted to get attention, good for her she got it. Whenever I read an article/blog that speaks to an ‘absolute’ I rarely take it serious, but in this case I would invite readers to look at what can a Gen Y teach me…….. when faced with something new of uncomfortable it’s cool to see how fast gender or generational stuff dissolves if both parties have a commitment to learning.

    I apologize not to Gen Y but to myself if I am deluded to think I speak for the masses

  7. I wandering while reading this article is the problem self-esteem or individuals with no sense of curiosity. I think what you described has more to do with being young than a Gen Y which is nothing more than a manufactured term. I knew these people in my 20’s and in my 40’s now. Perhaps accomplishing the goal of obtaining a college does play a role because it’s the belief that once this is obtained than it’s easy street, but learning doesn’t end at college or even grad school. Learning is a life-long process and it’s something that we have not instilled in children. People aren’t going to work at the same place performing the same position for years as it’s no longer conducive to do so and quiet frankly a waste of a person’s growth potential that’s not only benefical to the person, but the employer. Maya Angelou said “surviving is important, thriving is elegant”, and it’s an important for just not the Gen Y to learn but everyone. Things will not always work out, failure is a part of life, and frustration comes with the territory. I believe one should be optimistic with some pragmatism sparkled into the mix. As a child, I would spend summer days outdoors digging in the dirt looking for plants, worms and other creatures because it’s where my curiosity led me only to return to school to sit in a classroom for hours with stretches of boredom and a teacher drilling us with multiplication. I would daydream and thinking about if my Highlights and Jack & Jill magazines came into the mail so I can find out people in history, or re-reading the riddle of the Sphinx. No I think self-esteem is the problem, but is more profound. I gave my 16 year-old nephew the Iliad and the Odyssey the other day because he’s interested in reading and those books aren’t on the reading list for school because who has time to read when there’s a test to take. I will also give him “the Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” after I’m doing reading it.

  8. As a member of Gen Y (the youngest year on the generation- 1987, to be exact), I too can unfortunately say this is a fair judgement. In a way, I am thankful that I was sheltered from many of the factors influencing this type of behavior.
    I didn’t realize my generation was like this until I went to college. I went straight into the workforce for 3 years before going, and I’m sooooo glad I did! I worked with people older than me. My boss had HIGH, almost unrealistic expectations. For the 3 years I was there, anyone that came in that was my age, usually was gone within a month or two. I thought they were the oddballs. When I reached college, I found out I was the oddball. I couldn’t believe how lazy, disrespectful, and self righteous everyone around me was. Frankly, I was embarrassed.
    Now that I’m in my master’s degree as a 26 year old among those my age, older AND younger than me, I am scared about what comes next. Think Gen Y is bad?? Wait until the effect of Gen Z is felt in the workforce…

  9. There is, though, a lot of research that shows Millenials are very social-impact driven too:

    Could both be true?

  10. Gen Y USA: I would also add, learn to say thank you. In written and oral form. To your parents, coaches, clients, coworkers. And be grateful for the small things, because life has a way of teaching gratitude. Don’t be entitled and ungrateful. So much of that is visible with kids today. And oh yeah, the point of sports was… win. The only way to do that, was to show up prepared. Meaning, hard work, when no one was looking. Amazing how that goes. It’s not too late for the parents to rewrite (or rather go back to the old) rules. Nor is it too late for the kids of this generation to step up and accept responsibility. They are completely capable, we just have to let them be., and stop always fixing everything for them.

  11. I recognize and value the strength of the concluding statements; however, I have some reservations about this article (as Margaret indicated above, the assertions made are too generalized & broad). As a Gen Y myself, something I find particularly frustrating, aside from the repetitiveness of this blasé topic: “Gen Y is lazy, Gen Y is selfish & detached, yada, yada, yada…” is the fact that dramatically changing factors in the workplace have not been taken into account. According The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), 40% of workers reported their job was very or extremely stressful and three fourths of employees believe that workers have more on-the-job stress than a generation ago. That said, Gen Y or millennials are entering the workforce in an extremely volatile time, IF they’re lucky enough to enter the workforce at all. Let’s set the context here a bit before we besmirk an entire demographic; a great article by the National Journal sums it up nicely:

    “This so-called millennial cohort, the largest generation in American history, landed in the cradle during an awful recession, learned to walk during the Reagan recovery, came of age in the booming 1990s, and entered the labor market after the Sept. 11 attacks and before the Great Recession, the two tragedies of the early 21st century. They’ve survived an eventful few decades. Yet nothing in those vertiginous 30 years could have prepared them for the economic sledgehammer that followed the collapse of the housing market in 2007-08. And the aftereffects, economists fear, may dog them for the rest of their working lives.” - April 26, 2013

    I’m not saying we’re all to be pitied and we are far, far from perfect, with so much to learn. I lost my father at the age of 8. Dad was old school, born in the 40’s and raised a family of 8 brothers and sisters when his own father died at a young age. In 8 short years he taught me a life-time of lessons that have forged me into the worker I am today. Because of his willingness to teach and instruct, I seek opportunities to learn from others whenever possible, but how can any age learn in an environment of prejudice, stress and unemployment? The answer: mentorship.

    No more parenting required here, simply adopting an open-door policy as an employer, manager, etc. is enough. Welcome & facilitate discussion about growth opportunities and areas requiring development, on an individual level: e.g., NOT “your whole generation is flawed and here are a few bullet points, goodbye” but “I think there are some areas that you, as an individual, require improvement in to ensure your own success and the success of the company. Let’s talk about them.”

    No, you haven’t ruined us. In saying so, you’re ultimately taking responsibility out of our hands. In a sense, are you not being a tad narcissistic? We screw up, we get sensitive, we need to learn from our own mistakes. How does that happen? Over time and through experience. Rather than become oppositional, why not work together to address issues such as unemployment, stress, burn out, and increasing personal detachment and dependency upon communications technologies? We have so much to learn from one another. Together, we might just discover a way to teach the next seemingly “unfortunate” generation to save themselves!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.