A Sense of Entitlement

As we work with privately owned businesses, especially those that are family owned, we see an increasing sense of entitlement, among owner/managers, family members and employees.

This issue is becoming a hot button issue especially for some business owners.

The notion that some family members and employees seem to think they are owed something or entitled to a job simply because family members own the business is a bitter pill to swallow for those `business owners who often take great personal risk and make sacrifices to attempt to insure the success of their business.

The problem is, a lot of them would rather eat paint chips than deal with the issue.

Just Because …

The employee problem is not limited to small companies. An executive coach for companies such as Dell, AMD, and Emerson states: “The mindset is: I don’t have to give much, but I expect my employer/boss/co-workers will give me something – respect, pay, promotions, etc. – just because”.

She goes on to state: “It is well known that much of the younger generation has been raised to feel that they are always winners; that they deserve to win. So in the workplace, they always expect to win – regardless of their relative effort, merit, or whatever.”

Researchers Have Identified …

Researchers have identified certain characteristics that people with a sense of entitlement exhibit. They are:

  • resistant to feedback
  • have difficulty in adapting to new situations
  • inclined to overestimate talents and accomplishments and to blame others for mistakes.

And it’s not just younger employees. Some of the toughest entitlement behavior we have heard about and seen comes from people well into their 40’s and 50’s and felt as if they should be further in their careers and no longer needed to put in the effort they did when they were younger. Basically, their contribution has flattened but they expected more and more for it.

Two Situations …

102963-3d-glossy-green-orb-icon-alphanumeric-m01-clear We recently had two situations at a long standing client of ours. One was a family member who, when told that she had to interview for a job, refused because, after all, it was her family’s business. The fact that her Grandfather built the business with no contribution from her did not seem to register.

At that same company a long term employee wanted to have her granddaughter added to the company’s medical plan as she was now caring for her.  When told that the Granddaughter was not eligible because the employee was not her legal guardian, the employee procured an individual medical plan and expected the company to pay for it.   Despite a detailed explanation of why the company could not pay for individually obtained insurance, the requests continued until it was made clear that the discussion had to stop or the employee had to leave.

In many of the cases where we deal with companies, it is the owners and key executives compensation that often exacerbates the cash flow problem.  In one case, a previously successful family owned company had experienced a revenue decline due to the loss of a major customer and manufacturing problems. Despite this, the CEO’s and COO’s compensation for one year exceeded the gross profit of the company.

102964-3d-glossy-green-orb-icon-alphanumeric-m02-clearIn another case where we served as a receiver, the major shareholder (85%) of the company served as President and CEO.  When sales declined by almost 50%, all salaries in the company were cut by 15% including the CEO’s.  However, in order to maintain the lifestyle he had developed when the company was more successful, he was rerouting loan payments that should have gone to the bank to his personal account. When the fraud was discovered and the CEO was removed from the company, he stated that as CEO he was entitled to be able to maintain his lifestyle.

How can we identify those who are hard-wired for entitlement?  Experts suggest that interviews include such questions as:

  • Tell me about a time you made a major mistake or failed at something.
  • Tell me what led up to it, how you dealt with it, and most importantly, what you learned from it.
  • A person with a strong sense of entitlement will deny having ever made such a mistake or blame the situation on someone else.

At all levels of management, when discussing progress and results, listen carefully to how credit is distributed.  If you hear a lot of “I” as opposed to “we”, you probably have identified a manager with a strong sense of entitlement.

Researchers have described entitled people as having arrested emotional development, functioning as if they were six years old with needs that must be met before anything.

Let’s face it, the quality of management and employees needed to make a company successful are people who don’t want to work with or for a six year old.   If you’re the one at the top, you need to operate in a way that ensures that your company’s culture supports the adults, not the children.