Like bad attitude, "entitlement mentality" is a common label. However, such labels are not helpful for identifying specific problem behavior or
desired behavior. Labeling and name-calling are understandable. They allow us to ventilate and feel like we put people in their places. The
label may even have some truth to it. But, such labels can hinder solving the problem. Focus on the specific problem and desired behavior.
So, what is an entitlement mentality?
Our working definition: Employees behaving as though they deserve special treatment. These employees think they deserve preferential
treatment to get what they want and to act as they want. Their reasons might include seniority, longevity, employment position, credentials,
informal leadership, past performance ("I've earned it"), special circumstances, an overly-healthy ego, or something else (genetic superiority?).
They may believe that they
- Deserve enhanced salaries, incentives, perks, awards, appreciation, positions, working conditions, independence, authority, etc.
- Don't have to put in extra time or effort, do the mundane or dirty work, follow the usual rules and expectations, etc.
They feel justified to complain and criticize when they don't receive their preferential treatment. They can be angry and frustrated ranging from
passive-aggressive pouting to verbal or physical attacks. Their performance suffers because they believe they are being mistreated. They
may feel the right for revenge or retaliation against people or the organization.
Here's the Kicker: Management and/or employees DO provide special treatment to people. For example, Jane has put in excellent and extra
work for 40 loyal years. Everyone agrees she should get a parking spot closer to her workplace since her arthritis has worsened. Often
entitlement like this is not official or known organization-wide. This can lead to confusion, misunderstanding, jealousy, hurt feelings and conflict
("Why don't I get special treatment?"). And, there are legal and officially earned entitlements such as special accommodations for recognized
disabilities or the perks that come with a well-deserved promotion.
Much of entitlement depends upon subjective evaluations of FAIRNESS; that is, evaluations of who deserves something special and for what
kinds of performance or circumstances. Few employees would challenge a ramp being built for employees in wheelchairs. But, how about later
start times for employees who live a long ways from work and have to drive through hellish traffic? If employees have true genius or rare talent
that hugely benefits the bottom line, how much slack do you cut them; how "entitled" are they to being eccentric or other special treatment?
The list goes on.
A further complication: In general, over time people tend to take what they have for granted. Entitlements often lose their specialness to
employees. But, they still may ask, "Why don't I get more?" Bosses, understandably, can see such people as ungrateful and demanding.
A good example is "pay for performance" programs. These programs haven't always been effectively administered, resulting in employees
believing they deserve the best (or something darn good) in pay raises and incentives for marginal or questionable performance.
Another example: My organization would post jobs with the salary range. It was interesting how many candidates wanted to be hired at the very
top of the range. I believe it wasn't a salary negotiation tactic or just having a large ego. They truly though they should be paid what a years-
proven in the position, consistently highly-successful person would be paid. Even if they hadn't performed that job before.
The following examples of entitlement mentality are from "Reducing the Sense of Entitlement: Pay for Performance for 2010 — and Beyond,"
Myrna Hellerman and Jim Kochanski of Sibson Consulting, Society for Human Resource Management Publications, 08/14/09. The brackets are
- "All my people are top performers and deserve a large 'merit increase.'" [They probably all are not and don't]
- "The company met its plan, so everyone should get a bonus at or above target." [Did everyone contribute equally?]
- "I should get paid at least as much as others doing a similar job." [Similar is not identical and performance counts]
- "Our stock options are under water; the company should fix that." [Huh?]
Ineffective pay-for-performance programs require administrative fixes. Target Performance Management™ can support these and other
entitlement fixes with
- pinpointed goals and target performance (job descriptions, assignments, and conduct) that show how to be heroes and be entitled to
- selection of employees who want accountability for themselves and their bosses and who don't show entitlement behavior (Yes; this can
be part of the selection process)
- timely and objectively assessed performance based on pinpointed target performance
- clear, honest feedback ("No, your performance did not earn the incentive."), coaching ("Let's talk about ways to improve your
performance.") and fairly administered motivation (positive and negative) that is monetary and social/personal -- forging a consistent,
direct connection between target performance and consequences.
A Target Performance Management™ strategy and work culture help prevent and minimize entitlement behavior and more quickly and
effectively resolve it. Still, there is no guarantee of never having entitlement problems. After all, we're dealing with human beings who can be
very smart, opinionated, ego-driven, hard-working, and passionate with very different ways of evaluating people and things. And, many folks
have simply been over-indulged much of their lives
If an employee is showing entitlement behavior that is potentially or actually harmful, the boss must deal with the problem behavior. If a critical
mass of employees show entitlement behavior, the organization is in big trouble.
Special treatment for some employees but not others can be a slippery slope. It can be managed but it can't be avoided. Some employees
earn or deserve entitlements. And, some employees think they do but don't -- at least not in your opinion. HOW performance is managed (with
trust, respect, caring) largely determines employee commitment and allegiance to their jobs and the organization. This can greatly reduce the
likelihood or extent of employee anger, resentment or retaliation.
"You can please most of the people most of the time, some of the people some of the time, but none of the people all of the time."
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