How Leaders Create an Entitlement Culture

When we hear the words “entitlement culture” it generally means that employees have an unrealistic sense of their rights to their jobs. As you read this article I will discuss how leaders unintentionally create this culture, and what to do about changing it.

First, let’s discuss how you know that your company has an entitlement culture.

  1. Employees complain — about big things and little things — and infrequently offer solutions.
  2. Believe they deserve compensation and benefits they receive, and don’t perceive it needs to be tied to performance.
  3. Employees believe that trust should be given unconditionally and if they are questions about anything to them it’s always “you don’t trust me”.
  4. When asked to complete something that requires them to work past their standard work hours you are met with anger, frustration and/or resentment.
  5. Working part time, telecommuting, adjusting work hours, etc., are seen as expected instead of being appreciative if offered.

Of course there are other examples and if you find yourself saying ‘that’s us’ to more than one, you likely have an entitlement culture.

How did this happen, that you have a company where entitlement is the culture? Maybe you are thinking you’ve worked hard to treat people fairly and respectfully, to understand the need for work/life balance, compensate people appropriately, and provide opportunities for growth and development. With all that you do, how is it that they are unappreciative, ungrateful, and, worse, complaining? Let’s examine how leaders inadvertently create this culture of entitlement.

  1. Letting everyone think they should be involved with decisions. There is a balance between an organization that is inclusive and wants to encourage people to express their ideas, and an organization where staff or leadership feels they should be included in every decision. I’ve worked with companies where individuals feel they should have a say-so in what days are given for holidays to who handles certain duties in the company. As a leader, be careful in your desire to build a company where people feel included that it doesn’t turn to them feeling that they need to be included on every decision, regardless of how minor or if it applies to them or it’s any of their business.
  2. Positions created for people rather than defining what company needs. In all companies, we have people who started with us and at some point their skills no longer match up with what we need for their position. Always a difficult place for a company to be. So what do we do? Instead of determining what the organization needs for a specific role, because we like the person or are loyal to them we create a position around their skills. Maybe they can only do 50-60% of what’s needed. Others either pick up the slack or tasks simply don’t get handled.
  3. Not having performance metrics. While it would be wonderful if everyone who worked for you simply stepped up to the plate and did what was needed, the reality is very different. All human beings need to be given guidance for what is expected of them, so they can perform to those expectations and at least be aware when they aren’t. Without performance metrics they can assume they are doing great work, and you think something completely different.
  4. Compensation based on longevity and loyalty rather than performance. This is similar to #2 above, and often a function of not having performance metrics in place. If we focus on longevity rather than performance, individuals feel entitled to ask for raises, promotions and other compensation and it’s difficult to say no when you have nothing that indicates how they are performing their job.
  5. Not holding everyone to specific standards such as would be outlined in policies and procedures (or worse yet, not having any). Not having policies and procedures in place from HR to specific functional areas within the company is a big no-no. Having them and not enforcing is worse. Example: Letting people take vacations without verifying the time does not cause a hardship for the team/company.
  6. Limited bench strength so you become dependent on people and afraid they will leave. When only one person perform a role within the company and there is no cross training, the organization becomes vulnerable. Because we are afraid key staff members will leave, our fear drives our decisions. When we come from a place of fear we rarely make good business decisions.
  7. Not having the difficult conversations needed. This can stem from fear or losing people, not knowing how to have those conversations, avoiding them in the hope that things will get better, or waiting too long to have them. Whatever the reason for not having them, I promise that it only makes things worse. Small problems become big problems. Actions or behavior not addressed turns into assumptions that it’s acceptable.
  8. Lack of clear expectations communicated. This is different than performance metrics, and policies/procedures. Expectations could be anything from dress code, standard office hours, use of foul language, etc. Not having clearly communicated expectations means individuals assume whatever they think, do, and want is just fine.
  9. Hiring the wrong people. It probably goes without saying, but to create the culture you want you have to hire the right people who either come from a similar culture, or want to get away from one that doesn’t fit them.

As leaders we often ask ourselves, why do my employees act this way? Why aren’t they appreciative for everything we do instead of constantly complaining? How did they get this entitlement attitude and how do I change it? Before you go down the path of frustration about why they aren’t appreciative, ask yourself if any of the nine points I made above fit you and your company. Very few walk into a company with an entitlement attitude. If they do, you need to nip that in the bud quickly or get rid of them. More often we, as leaders, create this culture through the actions or inactions we take every day. Nothing happens overnight, it’s a slow process that we ignore or accept that one day we turn around and we have a huge mess to handle. Structure isn’t a problem, unless of course it’s rigid. But lack of structure can have your whole organization come to its knees.

Tired of the same old culture problems within your organization? Take thirty minutes and talk with Linda about how she has helped other companies move past the types of problems plaguing your firm.

© 2017 Incedo Group, LLC

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