The over-praised generation

The over-praised generation

The “most-praised” generation has been told it’s great and special so often that as they enter the work force they’re feeling a praise deficit that some companies are trying to make up.

Employers are dishing out kudos to workers for little more than showing up. Corporations including Lands’ End and Bank of America are hiring consultants to teach managers how to compliment employees using email, prize packages and public displays of appreciation. The 1,000-employee Scooter Store Inc., a power-wheelchair and scooter firm in New Braunfels, Texas, has a staff “celebrations assistant” whose job it is to throw confetti — 25 pounds a week — at employees. She also passes out 100 to 500 celebratory helium balloons a week. The Container Store Inc. estimates that one of its 4,000 employees receives praise every 20 seconds, through such efforts as its “Celebration Voice Mailboxes.”

How good can automated, mandated, or programmed praise and compliments makes you feel? Has no one seen the movie “Office Space”? “You’re not wearing enough flair!”

America’s praise fixation has economic, labor and social ramifications. Adults who were overpraised as children are apt to be narcissistic at work and in personal relationships, says Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University. Narcissists aren’t good at basking in other people’s glory, which makes for problematic marriages and work relationships, she says.

You see a sense of entitlement growing in each successive generation of Americans. Baby Boomers were more entitled than the Greatest Generation. Gen X-ers were more entitled than Boomers. Gen Y-ers more than X-ers. And so on. Why? Could it be that as we work longer hours, spend more time in leisure away from our families, become more wealthy with a paradoxical desire for even more than we can afford that we spend less time with our families? And as we spend less time with them we assuage that guilt by replacing love with undeserved praise and meaningless self-esteem talk as if the two were one and the same? Perhaps.

But what happens when the praise train runs out of steam? At some point, empty praise will become so florid and over-the-top that it will become meaningless. No compliment will ever satisfy. Is it a self-correcting trend that resets at the point?

In the meantime we can rest assured that “we’re good enough, we’re smart enough, and doggone it! People like us.

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Written by
Domenico Bettinelli
  • “How good can automated, mandated, or programmed praise and compliments makes you feel?”

    Our company has a SPAM filter that blocks most junk and mass emails. Each employee can log into their own SPAM email box to check out what is in there. Sometimes a valid email is blocked, so one can then allow that email ID to pass through the filter next time.

    Our company has a policy of awarding 5, 10, 15 etc. year anniversary gifts.  The email notifying me of my 5th year anniversary and offering my a choice of gifts (I took the $500 cash) was blocked by the filter.

    So much for the personal notification…

  • That said, a little friendliness and appreciation at work is nice. 

    However, in principle, I totally agree with what you’re saying.  My wife’s students can’t stand her (among other reasons) because she’s the only teacher that doesn’t give them candy in class every day.

    My niece’s school had a variety show a few months ago.  It was held at the town’s fancy theatre.  It featured a few students actualy displaying talent.  Most of the performances involved blasting professional recordings verly louldly while the students either “danced” by gyrating or “sang” by reciting the lyrics very softly into the microphone.  Yet for every performance, the parents cheered and rooted and clapped.  It embodied *several* of the problems with our society.

    I said, “Whatever happened to the days when a school variety show featured two or three girls singing ‘Over the Rainbow’ out-of-key while the music teacher accompanied with stilted piano cords?”

  • “Adults who were overpraised as children are apt to be narcissistic at work and in personal relationships…”

    Take a younger female relative of mine for example.  She’s beautiful and driven to be the best at no matter what she does, but can only talk about herself.  Couldn’t keep a boyfriend to save her life.

  • I’d like to compliment Dom on a fine post. And congratulations to all of you who read it. Good job! And I think some kudos are due to me for having noticed this greatness all around us. Keep up the great work everybody. It’s deeply appreciated by many, many people.

  • This drove me nuts for years when I was in the working world.  Worst though, was that if you didn’t require praise, you didn’t get it.  I hated reading about the quarterly gifts that went to people who supposedly overperformed.  Maybe 10% of them were those I respected for their performance.  The rest of them generated the response “isn’t that just part of the job?”

    Even at 31 now, and in my mid-20’s then, I would often think of the comment quoted in the article that praise is in the paycheck.

  • I am a practice teacher for social work students. Each class that comes through is worse than the last for wanting/needing praise. Some of ‘em seem to want you to praise ‘em just for getting up and coming through the door each day!

    And don’t, dare, give them a negative criticism of work not up to scratch. Their tutors demand you ‘praise the positive in the negative’. !!!!!

    I think Midwestmom has it about right: a narcissitic generation – self-centred and way too full of ‘I’ to make good social workers. I became a social worker because I saw it as part of my Christian witness. For me it is still a vocation. Where the ‘Godless Generation’ are with it, I hate to think.

  • If somebody threw confetti at me at work, I would get mad. Like I want to spend the day picking confetti out of my hair. And anybody who tells me how great I am every twenty seconds—shut up and let me work, here. Empty praise is just that. It means nothing.

  • One thing I can stand is the false enthusiasm of team-building exercises and the “pep-rally” thing. Let me do my job and trust that I believe in the company and/or product.

  • “Keep up the great work everybody. It’s deeply appreciated by many, many people.”

    Great comment Ed! You are an inspiration to all of us dedicated folks who do our very best to post comments on blogs.