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Whiny, Entitled Employees? Blame their Professors

How often have you had an employee in your office complaining about a less than stellar performance appraisal? How about an employee who balks at any suggestion that her work isn't perfect? I'm generally fond of blaming parents for teaching their little darlings that the sun revolves around them. However, it turns out that there's plenty of blame to go around and some of it falls on their university professors.

Professors Stuart Rojstaczer and Christopher Healy researched grading at 200 universities and colleges. The results, detailed in Where A Is Ordinary: The Evolution of American College and University Grading, 1940-2009, show that 43 percent of letter grades are, drum roll please, As. This is up 12 percent from 1988, and a whopping 28% since 1960.

No wonder young (and not so young) employees believe they deserve the highest performance rating and regular raises and promotions. They've always gotten it.

An A was supposed to represent the highest level of performance and there's no way you can convince me that 43% of college students are performing at the highest level. I've taught college and I know better. Sure, every once in a rare while you get phenomenal group of students in one class, but to receive grades at that consistently high level, is indicative of a grading system that is off.

After all, I think we can all agree that students today aren't 28% smarter than their 1960s era counterparts.

So, what do you do to counteract this feeling of deserved fabulousness? Here are 5 ideas to help you manage those whiny, entitled employees.

  1. Be upfront in the interview. Yes, you want to bring the best people on board. We all do. But make sure you discuss the performance appraisal process with them before you hire. If your company has a forced ratings distribution, tell the candidates about it and what the percentages are. Tell them what is needed to be considered a high performer.
  2. Give honest feedback. Sometimes it's too easy to be nice. If you're constantly telling your employees how fabulous they are, and then the employee doesn't get the raise or the promotion or the big bonus, they'll feel cheated. If a behavior or lack of skill will be held against an employee when it really counts, you need to let the employee know what he is lacking.
  3. Don't argue a performance rating/promotion. The problem with engaging someone in an argument, is that your employee then believes he can win the argument. If he can't, don't argue. State your case as the reality that it is. You can listen. You can tell your employees that they are free to, and in fact you encourage them to write up their objections and it will be included in their personnel file, but that it won't change their rating. Unless your boss is a real weenie (or you are, truly, being unfair), chances of a performance rating getting moved upwards, or a promotion granted against your wishes are low.
  4. Give yourself a reality check. Compare notes with your colleagues. Create performance goals that are easily measurable. Make sure your evaluations and decisions are based on facts, not your feelings. You need to have documented reasons to back up your decisions.
  5. Correct unacceptable behavior immediately. Yes, you should take your employees aside to criticize and correct, and not scream at them in a staff meeting. But, the first time you see an employee texting during a meeting, speak up. The first time someone uses inappropriate language speak up. If emails are filled with grammatical errors, correct them. Don't let your employees think this behavior is appropriate, and then slam them for it at performance appraisal time.
A few years in the workforce should help to cure the years of fake success that your employees are used to. But, don't expect it to be a pain free process. And don't be surprised if they label you as someone who doesn't understand how fabulous they are. Which you don't. Because, guaranteed, 43 percent of your employees aren't top level performers.

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Photo by Schlüsselbein2007, Flickr cc 2.0.

(Hat tip, Joanne Jacobs.)