Entitlement – It’s Your Fault

“Hey, that’s not fair!”

God, I cringe when I hear that, and I have heard it quite often.

Someone got to eat at his desk when someone else was prohibited from doing so.
A group was complaining about the annual pay increases getting reduced because business was down.
A team was pissed the incentive offered wasn’t given because…wait for it…the work wasn’t done.

Entitlement – it rears its ugly head more than we’d like it to.

The term “entitlement” refers to the belief that we deserve some particular reward or benefit…not because we met or exceeded a goal or expended exceptional effort but because we believe someone “owes” us something simply because we exist. I googled the word “entitlement” to see what others were saying about it.

I found a lot of blame.

  • Let’s blame it on the parents of the millennials; they gave too many trophies!
  • Let’s blame it on the employers of the Baby Boomers; they offered too much security and comfort.
  • Let’s blame it on the economy. There are too many job opportunities too stay put.
  • Let’s blame it on the government. Too many hand-outs.
  • Let’s blame it on the employers’ “reaction” to labor shortages.

The blame game…Google it and play along!

I suppose I could play too but it makes me feel like a victim. I find it more empowering to look in the mirror. 

What have I done to create, or nurture, my staff’s feeling of entitlement?

  • Have I given a decent or good performance evaluation when, in reality, the performance was mediocre?
  • Have I redone my staffs’ work rather than telling them they did it incorrectly or they did it poorly?
  • Have I “job sculpted” for someone, removing duties rather than conceding the employee simply can’t do the job?
  • Have I offered a raise, approved Paid Time Off or some other benefit as a bribe to motivate an employee to simply “meet” my expectations?

Great!  I have applauded low expectations and created entitlements.

  • Have I failed to communicate or define the “why” when benefits or rewards are offered?
    If so, I have encouraged the “reward regardless of merit” attitude and now have nothing to motivate the employee to “exceed” my expectations.
  • Do my employees understand what criteria were used in decision making?
    No? Good for me, because they now think I give random gifts and am an arbitrary and capricious manager.
    As a bonus, I’ve also thrown away an opportunity to motivate and encourage discretionary performance and instead, created either distrust of my “position power” or an entitlement.
Leaders must define reality!

The reality is that often, it’s unreasonable to expect or demand benefits and rewards. Are there certain inalienable rights in the workplace? Absolutely, and I believe all are entitled to a productive environment free of harassment and discrimination. But has everyone earned a raise or an extra Friday afternoon off?  Not likely.

Do any of you remember the John Houseman Smith Barney commercials that were so ubiquitous in the 80s?  The catch phrase, “They make money the old fashioned way…they earn it!” outlines a very clear plan for success: work hard and you will be rewarded.

The thing is, if your employees are entitled, it’s likely you’re the one who made them that way.

That being said, below are my ideas to get you out of the mess you’re in.

  • Empathize, don’t sympathize.  Sympathy validates the person or tells him/her you agree or share the belief.  However, empathy shows you are listening, trying to understand and that you care they are upset.
  • Ask questions.  Being inquisitive (without being snarky or condescending) can help the employee realize the reality, reasonableness and necessity of the situation.
  • Avoid continued bribing and/or offers of benefits Compromise is good but blindly offering one benefit for the loss of another doesn’t solve anything, and giving a reward “in the hopes” that performance will follow will likely backfire.
  • Avoid getting angry or frustrated Defensiveness will serve to validate and/or encourage the employee’s frustration.
  • Try to avoid rhetoric or persuasion There may be 100 great reasons why the benefit has gone away but the fact is, the employee wants it back!  Trying to persuade agreement is a waste of time.
  • Communicate the truthful “why.”  Many employees need to hear the “why” and need to trust the decision was made for the betterment of the business.  Define what success looks like in the position, present the employee with the performance criteria and be honest when he/she doesn’t meet it.
  • Be consistent and (dare I say) fair.  Logic, objectivity and reliability will nurture understanding in the workplace; understanding leads to acceptance.

I’ll leave you with one last thought.  In an atmosphere of entitlement, rewards are not tied to effort and thus, employees feel powerless to effect change and to grow. Therefore, give the ultimate gift to your employees:

Build a workplace where they get rewards the old fashioned way – they earn them.