When a college student needs counseling because he's scored a B on a report card, or worse, calls the police because there's a mouse roaming the apartment, we can kind of laugh about it. I mean, how ridiculous!
Those would be just good stories, except episodes like this are becoming more and more common. Peter Gray, PhD, a research professor at Boston College who studies how children learn and value play, writes about declining resilience in college students in Psychology Today. His thoughts are frightening for the workplace. If today's college students lack resilience, what can we expect from tomorrow's job applicants? You have to hire someone.
Dr. Gray quotes from the head of counseling at Boston College, who writes:
"I have done a considerable amount of reading and research in recent months on the topic of resilience in college students. Our students are no different from what is being reported across the country on the state of late adolescence/early adulthood. There has been an increase in diagnosable mental health problems, but there has also been a decrease in the ability of many young people to manage the everyday bumps in the road of life. Whether we want it or not, these students are bringing their struggles to their teachers and others on campus who deal with students on a day-to-day basis. The lack of resilience is interfering with the academic mission of the University and is thwarting the emotional and personal development of students. (Emphasis is mine.)"
Human Resource managers and people who manage entry-level employees have already seen this. Years ago, the head of R & D HR at a pharma company I worked for, joked with me about how hard it was to give an "average" performance appraisal rating to someone with a PhD from Harvard. He was joking, but we're not laughing now. Consider the following:
If a college student needs counseling because of a bad grade, what happens when she receives negative feedback?
An employer may get a phone call from a parent, of course, but it's easy enough to say, "I can't discuss personnel issues with you," and hang up. What about the employee who lacks resilience? Is this employee sobbing in the bathroom? Does this employee take any feedback as a sign of illegal discrimination?
You can say, of course, that it was simply well deserved negative feedback, but that doesn't mean the employee can't contact the EEOC or an employment attorney. Your case may be airtight, but it costs you money to defend it, and you may permanently damage the employee-manager relationship.
Where will you get your new ideas?
You can think of them, of course, but even Steve Jobs didn't develop Apple products all by himself. One of the problems with young adults lacking resilience is that they do not take risks. Every time you present a new idea, you run the risk of getting shot down. This process is critical to success, but if your new employees panic at the thought of possible failure, you won't get those new ideas.
How do you evaluate managers?
Good businesses need good managers, just like good universities need good professors. At the university, professors sometimes feel pressure to acquiesce to student demands because their job depends, at least in part, on student evaluation. Tough professors may be great teachers, but if delicate students can't be challenged, the professor has a choice to either wimp out or face poor student evaluations.
Is the same happening in business? A manager of exacting standards who requires quality work runs the risk of the special snowflakes running to HR and senior management at every turn.
How do you parent your children?
Are you doing your part to raise future adults, or are you focused on keeping your children happy? Do you jump at every request? Do you not trust your 7-year-old to use a knife? Do you yell at teachers who dare give a bad grade to your child? If so, you're part of the problem.
Children don't learn resilience by having mom and dad solving every problem. And if they don't learn resilience in childhood, they won't magically develop it as college students. If they don't have it as college students? They will have to learn it the workplace. So, if you don't want to impose that nightmare on future managers, at least fix it in your house.
Not every young person lacks resilience.
While colleges are seeing a rise in this behavior, it's not at 100 percent. There are great people out there if you're willing to find them. Take a look at candidates who have failed in the past. They're the ones who have faced adversity, and that's a great start on the road to success. That's what you're looking for in an employee. And if you hire someone who exudes perfection, be careful -- that perfection could be the result of a whole herd of parents and teachers smoothing the pathway, and not the sign of a candidate who has learned to handle real challenges.