Are Universities Creating Millennial Narcissistic Employees?

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James W. Westerman, Jacqueline Z. Bergman, Shawn M. Bergman and Joseph P. Daly, all of Appalachian State University, published “Are Universities Creating Millennial Narcissistic Employees? An Empirical Examination of Narcissism in Business Students and Its Implications,” in the May 2011 issue of the Journal of Management Education. Professor Westerman and Dr. Daly kindly provided the following responses on the article.

Who is the target audience for this article?

This article was targeted toward business instructors and business school administrators at the undergraduate and graduate levels – particularly instructors of management.  We also believe that there are implications from this research for business school career services and career development professionals.

Were there findings that were surprising to you?

One of our biggest surprises was a non-finding, that narcissism was not associated with better classroom performance among students.  We had thought that, since business courses are a short-term instructional setting and narcissists have been shown to excel in short-term learning settings, that they would outperform their non-narcissistic counterparts in that context.  The fact that the hypothesis was not supported by the data was a heartening development – it suggested that business professors in our sample are not cutting any slack or catering to their narcissistic students.  I think the other big surprise was the enhanced salary and career opportunities anticipated by narcissists, which were unrelated to their academic performance.  It seems interesting that narcissists expect to prosper in the business world.  

How do you see this study influencing future practice?

We see this study as influencing future management educators, raising their awareness of narcissism and its effects in the classroom.  In the article, we suggest some interventions that educators can try.  A more extensive discussion of corrective actions that includes administrative interventions is presented in our 2010 article in Academy of Management Learning & Education.

How does this study fit into your body of work/line of research?

Our previous work on narcissism in the business classroom extrapolated from previous research in other disciplines that narcissism was likely to be an increasingly difficult problem in management education.  This study was the first to test that proposition with regard to preparing students for managerial positions.

 How did your paper change during the review process?

One issue that kept coming up among reviewers was, given that our young professors are increasingly coming from Generation Y, what effect would that have on one’s teaching style?  We did measure narcissism levels among the instructors of our sample, but there were not enough observations to draw any meaningful conclusions. 

 What, if anything, would you do differently if you could go back and do this study again?

We would like to replicate this study, only with a Chinese sample to compare to our existing American sample.  China is a land of contrasts.  One the one hand, we would expect narcissism to be lower among the Chinese because their culture is a collectivistic one, which would mitigate against the self-absorption that is a hallmark among narcissists.  However, on the other hand, Chinese students in Generation Y are overwhelmingly from one child families.  Many of their countrymen refer to them as “little emperors” because their parents dote on them so much.  Parental doting is thought to be a root cause of narcissism.

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