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.”