Entitlement – Blame It On The Leader

I had the pleasure of participating in Performance I Create’s first ever Podcast. During this podcast, the fantastic Sarah Williams used a term I got a chuckle from…the “wussification” of America’s workforce.

I thought about that term for awhile…I liked it…it made me think of entitlement.

The term “entitlement” refers to the belief that we deserve some particular reward or benefit. Period. We deserve it because we exist, not because we met or exceeded a goal or expended exceptional effort. We forget we are being compensated to work effectively and productively and instead, we believe our employers “owe” us something special because damnit, we showed up.

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 younger generations.
  • Let’s blame it on the economy.
  • Let’s blame it on the unions.
  • Let’s blame it on the slave drivers.
  • Let’s blame it on the government.

The blame game…look around 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. 


Leadership is ultimately accountable.

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

  • Have I given a decent/good performance evaluation when, in reality, the performance was mediocre?
  • Have I redone my staffs’ work rather than telling them it was wrong and they needed to try again?Slide1
  • Have I “job sculpted” for someone, removing duties rather than conceding the employee simply can’t do the job?
  • Have I offered a raise to get someone to meet my expectations?
  • Have I approved a benefit as a bribe for someone to do the work assigned to him?

Great!  I have applauded low expectations and created entitlements.

  • Have I communicated or defined the “why” when benefits or rewards are offered?
  • Do my employees understand what criteria were used in decision making?

No? Excellent! They now think I give willy nilly (true HR technical term) gifts. And, as a bonus, I’ve made strides in ensuring they believe I am an arbitrary and capricious manager.

Do you see where I’m headed here? If I am not leading effectively, if I am not motivating effectively, or if I am not communicating effectively, I have thrown away the opportunity to motivate and encourage discretionary performance!

What about you? Are you caring for and feeding the entitlement monster at your workplace?

If so, stop the madness! 

Step up and lead!

Define reality for your staff – and the reality is that often, it’s unreasonable to expect or demand benefits and rewards for simply doing our job.

Are there certain inalienable rights in the workplace?  Absolutely! I believe all employees are entitled to a productive environment free of harassment and discrimination. I also believe all employees should be treated with dignity and respect.

But has everyone earned a raise or an extra Friday afternoon off? It is highly unlikely!

Do any of you remember the John Houseman Smith Barney commercials that were so ubiquitous in the 80s?  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oxh7lhASX4Q  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.

I think we can learn a lot from Mr. Houseman.

Perhaps some of the points below can help you discourage and/or prevent an entitlement mentality in your workplace.

  • 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 performance and thus, employees feel powerless to effect change, to grow and to perform. 

Therefore, give a better gift to your employees this week:

Build a high performing workplace where employees receive rewards the old fashioned way…they earn them!



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