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Are You Entitled at Work? Why It Might Actually Be a Good Thing

business.com editorial staff
business.com editorial staff

Younger workers are frequently mocked as "entitled." But does entitlement provide the confidence needed to compete in the business world?

If there's one thing Neil Blumenthal of online eyewear maker Warby Parker hates, it's a prospective employee who acts entitled

What is entitlement?

Entitlement can include a whole slew of destructive behaviors from employees: a 'that's not my job' stance, alienating co-workers with arrogance, or inflexibly defending ideas that don't necessarily contribute to the company's well-being. Ultimately, entitlement degrades collaboration.

On the other hand, there's actress, author and comedian Mindy Kaling who portrayed an office worker on television and at one time actually was an office worker. She maintains that you need confidence to do a job well, and the only way to gain confidence is to feel entitled.

Mindy Kaling Quote

Confidence is just entitlement. Entitlement has gotten a bad rap. But entitlement in and of itself isn't so bad. Entitlement is simply the belief that you deserve something. Which is great. The hard part is you'd better make sure you deserve it.

Jada Graves, writing in U.S. News and World Report, points out that millennial-aged workers are frequently accused of acting entitled. But she also quotes the observation of Lauren Stiller Rilken, who has studied the millennial generation work ethic: "They don't see themselves as entitled. They see themselves as very hard-working, dedicated and loyal."

Diane Barth, writing in Psychology Today, says that feeling you're entitled, in the sense you have a right to something, can be a reasonable and healthy expectation. Examples include the right to be respected and the right to just reward for a job well done.

She cautions, however, that the problems we normally associate with an "entitled attitude" arise when a person fails to take into account that other people are entitled respect and cooperation.

Trent Hamm, writing for The Christian Science Monitor, argues that we all feel entitled at times. "We feel we have a right to a better position at work because we earned it … we deserve that special treat because we've worked so hard lately." 

Problems arise when our sense of entitlement excludes those who have also worked just as hard and perhaps are even more qualified.

Entitlement can lead to increased productivity

CEO reports that Nasty Girl fashion site founder (and millennial) Sophio Amoruso believes, "A sense of entitlement is a healthy thing." However, she didn't expect anything to be handed to her; she knew what she wanted and knew how to get it.

You can feel good about feeling entitled

  • To question authority. At the crux of many a corporate scandal is the "just following what my bosses told me to do" attitude. You are entitled to an explanation of why your company is doing something the way it is doing it, as well as considering the ethical implications of what is required of you to do your job.

  • To do rewarding work. Look, we all have to do drudge work from time to time. That's part of the job. But if it's not leading to something more than just a paycheck (not to discount the importance of that), then maybe it's time to either demand a change in your job description or look for new opportunities.

  • To expect fair treatment. If you don't feel you're being treated the same as others, and you suspect that may be based on something other than your work performance, you deserve not only an explanation, but appropriate correction.

  • To respect.  We all deserve respect, assuming of course, that we extend the same respect to others.

Signs of unhealthy entitlement

While a sense of entitlement can be a good thing for individuals, there are some warning signs that an individual may have a skewed perspective. An employee, for instance, may think that their peers, including management, are less competent than they are. They may think that if it weren't for them, the entire company would fall apart and that it is their duty to point out the flaws of their peers.

An entitled employee may become conditioned to think that they are going to receive positive reinforcements without having earned it through their work performance. If not confronted, they may have a stronger feeling of being justified in their behavior.

How to deal with entitlement in the workplace

Basically, entitlement on the job means there is a difference in expectations between direct reports and the management. The primary goal is to close the gap and come to an agreement that is appropriate for everyone involved.

Some ways to deal with entitlement in the workplace may include the following:

Set clear expectations. By having clear expectations from day one, it guarantees that all of your employees are on the same page. If you have an employee that is stepping outside of these boundaries, it's important to address the problem immediately.

Document your concerns. Anytime you address a problem, it should always be documented in writing and kept in the offending employee's file. This allows you to monitor the situation and keep the employee on track.

Create a team environment. It is critical that you create a team environment in the workplace. One way you can do this is by making it a point to celebrate team accomplishments as opposed to singling out the achievements of an individual. A team environment encourages employees to work together and share recognition.

Image Credit: Fizkes / Getty Images
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