Do Today’s Entry Level Employees Lack Professionalism?

December 15, 2010

Students aren’t making the grade as professionals in the workplace, according to an annual survey on the state of professionalism among young workers.

In 2009, 37.3 percent of corporate leaders felt that less than half of all new graduates exhibited professionalism in the workplace. This year, that number virtually remains unchanged at 38.2 percent. Nearly a fourth of survey-takers said that professionalism in young workers had decreased, while more than 15 percent of respondents believed it had increased.

The research is from the Center for Professional Excellence (CPE) at York College of Pennsylvania. They interviewed more than 400 corporate human resource professionals and other business leaders; they also surveyed more than 400 students and recent college graduates.

“If there is good news from this survey it is that things are not getting worse,” said David Polk whose firm, the Polk-Lepson Research Group, was commissioned to complete the study.

Internet etiquette, the ability to accept personal responsibility, and the ability to accept constructive criticism all were found to be absent from many unseasoned workers.

“It was really surprising to see the importance ratings alongside the prevalence ratings,” said Polk. “New employees are lacking the professional qualities that are deemed to be important. The largest gap exists for accepting personal responsibility and for decisions and actions and being open to criticism.”

Students also perceive this gap between importance and prevalence when rating the same qualities. However, they tend to feel they demonstrate more professionalism than employers actually experience, according to Polk.

IT Misbehavior

The CPE survey reaffirms several findings from last year, such as new employees continue to be concerned with advancement opportunities more so than they probably should be, and information technology (IT) etiquette problems are not getting any better.

The percentage of respondents reporting an increase in the number of IT etiquette problems has remained the same between 2010 (38.4 percent) and 2009 (39.1 percent), but the percentage experiencing a decrease in the problem dropped precipitously from 44.8 percent in 2009 to 10.7 percent in 2010.

“Some of these problems in the workplace are the same things we are seeing in the classroom,” said Polk. “Students and employees alike are text messaging, surfing the Internet, and responding to cell phone calls at inappropriate times. It appears that for many the need to be in constant contact with friends and family has become an addiction. The addicted no longer see it as rude to be obsessively responding to calls or text messages.”

Student recognize the existence of IT problems surrounding social networking sites like Facebook and the micro blogging site Twitter. More than 8 in 10 student respondents identified text messaging at inappropriate times as an IT problem in the workplace.

While companies of all sizes are reporting IT-related etiquette problems, larger companies – those with 50 or more employees – are more likely to see an increase in these issues.

A “sense of entitlement” continues to be a seen in younger workers. Entitlement, defined as expecting rewards without putting in the work or effort to merit the rewards, was the most cited reason (21.5 percent) for a decline in professionalism over the past five years. More than half of all respondents, 55.3 percent, say that young workers feel more entitled than their peers five years ago. Only 6.0 percent said it remained the same.

Roughly a fifth of those surveyed blamed an increase in entitlement on the need for instant gratification. Other respondents said younger workers had been coddled, expected mid-career treatment as an entry-level employee and had a lack of work ethic.

Students and recent graduates, for the most part, agree with business leaders that there has been a change in the sense of entitlement of younger workers.

More than half of all student/recent graduate respondents also reported an increase in the sense of entitlement among young workers. In fact, the younger the employer respondents, the more likely they were to see an increase in entitlement.

Hiring Factors

Overwhelmingly (96.3 percent) respondents continue to say that professionalism does factor into the decision to hire or not hire an individual. The “ability to communicate” factored as the top method of evaluating professionalism. HR professionals and business leaders also frequently said that attitude or demeanor played a role in determining professionalism.

In the 2009 survey, the business world held colleges and universities accountable for preparing young workers for the workplace as 97.6 percent of respondents believed that this should be the role of colleges regardless of a student’s major. Given that, respondents this year were asked to give suggestions on how this could be achieved. The top three responses were through internships/hands-on experiences (25.0 percent), classes on etiquette (15.2 percent) and teaching common courtesy and personal responsibility (9.3 percent).

Respondents cited the most frequent means of hiring new employees is by direct contact with the company (63.5 percent). Employee referrals were almost mentioned as often 62.1 percent. Fewer than four in 10 respondents use job aggregator websites such as Monster, CareerBuilder and HotJobs to hire employees.

The sample size of this survey consisted of 430 HR professionals and business leaders nationwide. The sample size from students and recent graduates was 436. Student responses were geographically diverse. Data was collected via an online survey. The top three industries represented in this year’s survey were service (24.0 percent), manufacturing (19.3 percent) and retail (11.2 percent). Roughly half of all survey-takers held graduate degrees and more than a quarter held positions as president/CEO/CFO.

Topics Human Resources

Was this article valuable?

Here are more articles you may enjoy.