Somewhere in a box in our basement, I have a few trophies from when I played youth sports. But, only a few. Why don’t I have a whole box of them, like both of my kids*? Well, because not many of my teams won championships. My 12 and under baseball team did, but that’s about all I can recall. When our teams didn’t win, we didn’t get a trophy. There was no trophy for just showing up. Furthermore, there was no guarantee of playing time on any of those little league teams. If you wanted to play, you had to out-hustle the other kid that played your position. Perhaps this turned our generation into a very competitive group, but say this about us. We worked hard for what we got.
Fast forward 25-30 years and everybody gets a trophy. In fact, today a kid could skip half the practices and games for his or her soccer team and still show up at the end of season pizza party to collect a trophy. This may sound like an old bald guy complaining about how the next generation has it easier than he did. Surely, that’s true as it is for how every generation views the successive one.
But, I’ve been suspecting there’s a lot more going on here and a recent report by the global firm Ernst & Young confirms that there is. EY recently published a report on Gen Y’ers (aged 18-32) in the workforce. As Gen Y moves into management positions, the EY study found, they are widely perceived as entitled and score significantly lower as hard-working team players. This is consistent with conversations I’ve had over the past 5 years or so with my gray haired friends about the talented young people in their organizations.
I have to believe there’s a link between the Everybody Gets a Trophy culture and the workplace entitlement now being displayed by these young people. I guess we have nobody to blame but ourselves. I’m a bit young to have a child in management (or even out of college), but we were the coaches who told all these kids they were great and deserved a trophy, whether they played well as a team, won or lost, or even showed up regularly. The real world is a meritocracy where you earn your stripes or you don’t get them. Sending a message to kids, on the ball field or in the classroom, that they’re all #1 is now backfiring. Hopefully, today’s parents don’t make the same mistakes we did.
*In fairness to my daughter, she has about twice as many trophies as my son because she played for some really good teams that won a bunch of championships. And, every season they did, she got two trophies, one for participating and one for actually winning.