We Australians have supposedly been basking in an age of entitlement.
The Federal Government’s recent Budget battles in part reflect its philosophical aim to change this. Treasurer Joe Hockey warned in an interview earlier this year ‘the age of entitlement is over, and we’ve got to move to a culture of opportunity and hope’. One thing Hockey has right is that many Australians are becoming more self-obsessed and self-absorbed than past generations. These claims are supported by Australian author Anne Manne, who observes that ‘society is starting to drown in a flood of ‘me, me, me’. Our culture is marked by a radical self obsession’. Manne cites a few interesting reasons why.
Firstly, our culture rewards those who look out for themselves, more than ever before. Being altruistic and caring isn’t going to pay the bills or get you a job. Due to the increasingly competitive job market, self promotion has become an increasingly necessary tool to secure a job and even remain in a role.
Secondly, Australian culture is becoming increasingly materialistic. Fuelled by easy credit, consumer purchasing power has never been greater. The media constantly bombards individuals with messages of being unique, special and deserving of spoiling themselves. It’s not surprising that all these messages are starting to go to our heads. Our headlines are filled with self-obsessed celebrities which is providing more fuel to the fire of our individualistic culture.
Thirdly, parenting styles of high praise and low critique are producing a generation of children with inflated sense of selves. We are raising a generation brimming with overconfidence. While some parents sleep well at night knowing that their children have high self esteem, what happens when their child trots off into the real world and they are not treated specially?
Manne reports this age of self absorbed entitlement is becoming increasingly global. Cultures seen as more group oriented or collectivist, such as China, are reporting high levels of individualistic traits in younger generations. Recent studies have shown that as individualistic values rise, narcissistic traits also increase. Narcissism is a colloquial term for Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Narcissists live by the motto ‘me first!’ and everything is about them. These employees are self absorbed and attention seeking. They can display behaviours such as an exaggerated sense of self-importance, lack of sensitivity and empathy to others and a need to be the centre of attention.
The increase in narcissistic traits has been so dramatic, some researchers are calling it an ‘epidemic’. A recent study by Industrial Psychologists Jeff Simpson in New Zealand identified the danger of hiring narcissists. Simpson states that narcissists are not successful in the workplace due to their ‘know all’ persona, which prevents them from admitting to personal failures or looking to further their knowledge or skills. This is detrimental in the workplace because they refuse to acknowledge their mistakes. San Diego psychologist Jean Twenge highlights that narcissists facilitate a “toxic affect” society and in the workplace, with ‘more incivility, aggression and less empathy’.
Implication for Employers
One way this is beginning to manifest in the workplace is the increased amount of effort required to resolve workplace issues, including disputes and unfair dismissal claims. Other examples are the growth in workplace “stress” and bullying claims. Employees are engaging in more action more than ever due to an increased access to information about their rights. Disgruntled employees, for better or worse, can more easily lodge complaints than ever. In Australia, the introduction of the Fair Work Act (2009) has resulted in more promotion and clearer outlines of employee rights on the web and elsewhere.
The rise of narcissistic traits in the workplace and an increase in individual employee disputes spells trouble for employers. We have written here about an employee who gave their employer hell. Narcissists have reduced empathy and don’t believe they make mistakes. Imagine a narcissist lodging a dispute claim against unfair dismissal: fuelled by their ego and sense of entitlement, a narcissist would pursue a claim past the point of all reason, to prove they were unfairly treated by their employer. This does not bode well for employers and has significant ramifications including paying needless compensation, court fees and a damaged reputation.