In the world of work, we trade hours and effort for money. It's the basic equation that makes work, well...work.
So why do we feel we're entitled to more?
Some of it is basic to human nature -- we look at what others receive for their effort, and think we should have the same. We become obsessed with notions of "equal treatment" or "fairness" -- which, as a far as I can tell, usually is formulated as "I want 'mine' to be equal to the best received by anyone else."
And the attitude seems to grow over the course of long tenure within the organization.
You've probably seen it before, too. The new employee is just happy to have a job and an opportunity to prove their worth. After a few years, however, the focus starts to shift toward what can I "get" for my time, and how much is everyone else "getting?" This is one of the reasons that companies hate it when people start comparing wages -- someone always ends up unhappy.
As length of service increases, so do the expectations. A sense of entitlement tends to take hold. Some employees begin to take advantage of rules and norms trying to bend things for the personal benefit. They feel they're "entitled" to it, and somehow rationalize the behavior.
Often expectations continue to grow, becoming impossibly high. Some of the most senior employees become bitter and disenchanted (known in some circles as "disengaged"). They might be wholly or partially justified in these feelings, but even the best of companies seem to develop an undercurrent of resentment within a significant cross-section of their senior ranks.
This attitude has its roots in comparison to others and personal measures of "fairness." It is also often supplemented with an overestimation by the employee of their value to the company. I once read an academic paper that pointed out over 80% of employees believe they are in the top 10% of performers in their company. No wonder they feel entitled.
This same phenomena also occurs with outsiders that have a long-term relationship with the company. I've personally seen it in suppliers, consultants, and representatives/distributors.
Dealing with the entitlement mentality is a long term battle, and one the manager can't wholly win on his/her own.
Making progress starts with setting reasonable expectations -- that means realistic performance reviews, and both positive and negative feedback on how a person is really doing (as opposed to stoking the overestimation of value already likely to be present).
Keeping personal information (like compensation or any special accommodations) a secret is also quite helpful. This almost doesn't bear mentioning as it seems to be in the DNA of most organizations.
Getting rid of the most disaffected individuals is also a measure that will help, and will usually be understood by the majority of other employees.
Beyond that, the only thing I've found to be even marginally helpful is to occasionally talk about the concept of "fairness" as it is usually interpreted in the workplace, and remind people what it is like to be unemployed and looking for a job. On the whole, however, this will do little to change the attitude of the truly entitled person, but might at least point out to those a little less negative what is going on in everyone's head.
There may be some "experts" that will claim this phenomena is (as they claim most things are) a function of "leadership." In my opinion, a great leader can help reduce feelings of entitlement by keeping focus on the larger mission of the company. But leaders can't change the tiger's stripes. There seems to be something deeply within our beings that insists on all these comparisons and evaluations of the "equality" of treatment in the workplace. 16.3
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If you are intrigued by the ideas presented in my blog posts, check out some of my other writing. Novels: LEVERAGE, INCENTIVIZE, DELIVERABLES and now HEIR APPARENT (published 3/2/2013) -- note, the Kindle version of DELIVERABLES (a prequel to HEIR APPARENT) is on sale for a limited time for $2.99.
To the right is the cover for DELIVERABLES. This novel features a senior manager approached by government officials to spy on his employer, complete with a story about how a "deal" they are negotiating might put critical technical secrets into the hands of enemies of the United States. Of course, everything is not exactly as it seems....
My novels are based on extensions of 27 years of personal experiences as a senior manager in public corporations.
Non-Fiction: NAVIGATING CORPORATE POLITICS