Classic: Behaviors Managers Hate, Entitled

Originally Published 12/16/2011

"The Entitled" employee must be a second cousin to the "Fairness Whiner".  The primary difference between the two being their point of reference -- "Fairness Whiners" endlessly compare themselves to others, while "The Entitled" seem to think they deserve whatever they want because...well, just because.  There doesn't appear to be a hard line delineating the two behaviors, and one can easily leak into the other.

Manager:  So you think you should get more {insert here object of the employee's desire -- pay, office, recognition, etc.}

Employee:  Yes.  I clearly deserve it.  I really am that good. [Or some other equally irritating embodiment of Entitlement mentality]

Manager:  But we don’t just give that {object of desire} to people.

Employee:  Not true -- I heard Fred from accounting got it.  Twelve years ago. [Now in Fairness Whining mode]

The cross-over between the behaviors can be seamless.  The distinction, as I mentioned earlier, is in the motivation behind the employee's behavior.  "Fairness Whiners" think they deserve rewards because someone else received them.  “The Entitled” think they deserve rewards because they overestimate their value.

So why do people feel entitled?

It starts with a miscomprehension of their contribution – to work, to others, to pretty much anything and everything.  One of my favorite surveys (I wish I could again find it) says that roughly 80% of employees think they rightly belong among the top 10% of performers at their company.

This doesn’t surprise me.

It is often difficult to grasp how one’s contribution fits into the big scheme of things.  And as conscious creatures, we are intimately familiar with the blood, sweat, and tears we pour into to our jobs, while at the same time only having a superficial understanding of similar efforts exerted by others.  It is a problem of perspective that is difficult to objectively overcome.

Managers further contribute to this perspective issue by providing lily-livered reviews to employees that bury real, important criticisms among piles of inconsequential praise.  Few employees, it would seem, ever walk out of an appraisal with a realistic picture of where they really stand in the pecking order.  Managers are directly to blame for this, and they usually back away from the truth because they are afraid of negatively impacting the employee or because they’re avoiding the unpleasantness of the conversation.  I would further guess that in most cases, the latter reason is a rationalization for the former.

In addition to the above reasons, I suspect employees sometimes lose track of the basic give-and-take relationship between themselves and their employer, the one where the company pays you money, and you provide effort, knowledge, or some other item of value, in return.  This particularly seems to take place with employees that have been at the company for many years.  I have often heard the “…I’ve devoted ‘X’ years to the company, and they ought to…” rationale.  This is usually followed by some demand for special treatment.

The bottom line is the deal doesn’t change.  No matter how long you are at the company there is still an implicit exchange of money for effort.  Devoting many years doesn’t entitle you to more, and if you don't like that arrangement you should cancel it and move on to something else.

In one sense, the employee has already “won the lottery” -- a decent-paying job with a company in the United States already puts them in rarefied air, just ask almost anyone living and struggling to survive in the developing world.  And while the opportunity to better one’s situation is a part of the American experience, sometimes we need to spend more time dwelling on how we are blessed, rather than that to which we feel entitled.

 This is the original cover of Navigating Corporate Politics.  I still have a few copies available with this cover.  Click the image for more details.

This is the original cover of Navigating Corporate Politics.  I still have a few copies available with this cover.  Click the image for more details.

Clearly many of “The Entitled” somehow missed out on those childhood lessons that should have taught them rewards need to earned, rather than complained into existence.  Or demanded.  Or campaigned for.

Of course, employers don’t just give away value.  If an employer can pay an employee a dollar to get the job done, why would they volunteer to pay two?  It is often incumbent on the employee to ask for what they believe they deserve.  Maybe the employee really does merit something better than what they have now.  Maybe they are that good.  Maybe their employer is taking advantage of them.

But there is a difference between “asking” and demonstrating entitlement.  Entitlement carries with it an attitude of certain indebtedness spiced with a dash of arrogance.  When entitlement makes an aggressive appearance, it rubs managers the wrong way.  I recall a number of encounters with entitled employees where I walked away focused on finding a way to become less dependent on them, rather than giving them what they demanded.

Entitled Employee, if you really think you are that good and your employer isn’t responding -- then take action.  Don't complain, whine, or protest, search out another job with someone who better appreciates your talents.  Don't poison your coworkers, take your future into your own hands.

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