Identifying Entitlement

On the road to accountability, entitlement is often encountered, but rarely is it properly acknowledged and discussed. Entitlement is, in its simplest form, a sense of being inherently deserving of something – privileges, benefits, special treatment, higher status, etc – without necessarily having earned or worked for it.

What entitlement is:

Entitlement has three main characteristics

  • A sense of superiority –
    Entitlement starts with an inflated sense of self-importance. An entitled person will believe that they should get some manner of special treatment or recognition simply because of who they are. This causes problems when working as a member of a team, where such an individual will often devalue or ignore the work and effort put in by others. They often believe that they are beyond reproach and that their time would be better spent on tasks/projects that they deem to be of higher value or skill.

    An entitled person may refuse to grow, learn or change in order to complete a given task/project, they will often expect larger rewards than their colleagues, and on the more extreme end, they may expect others to do their work for them, particularly work they consider beneath their perceived abilities.

  • Lack of accountability –
    An entitled person will try to ‘dodge the bullet’ when they make a mistake or cause a problem, they will often find a way to shift the blame onto someone else or even try to hide their mistakes without doing anything to make up for them. This trait is difficult to hide – an entitled person will often dismiss criticism and react defensively when their lack of accountability is brought up; according to them, any problems with their work are the fault of someone or something else.
  • Lack of empathy –
    In order for a person to be entitled, their assumption has to be that they are somehow better or “more” than other people. In the workplace a lack of empathy leads to the dismissal of the perspectives, concerns, opinions or the needs of their colleagues and subordinates. This disregard for others makes an entitled person difficult to work alongside, and, in time, it may even cause their colleagues to become uncooperative.

All three of these traits combine to negatively affect teamwork, productivity and, if not properly addressed, the overall culture of the organisation.

What entitlement is not:

Whilst recognising entitlement is important, almost as important is recognising what it is not; different jobs, roles and people will have different needs, and it is imperative that “simply having a need” doesn’t get confused with entitlement.

When identifying entitlement in the workplace, pay particular attention to the requirements of a given task or role
For example, when Apple built their new donut-shaped headquarters a few years ago, they had designed the interiors to be free-flowing, open-plan environments where collaboration could take place, but they were shocked when their coders and engineers spent all their time locked up in the quieter offices, spaces initially reserved for meetings; these employees were not being entitled, instead, upper-management hadn’t considered that coding and engineering require intense focus for extended periods of time, which is difficult to do in noisy environments.

After considering the requirements, consider the frequency and consistency of the ‘asks’. An employee asking once or twice for ‘this one thing’ in relation to a particular task is likely not being entitled, but an employee taking every opportunity to ask for the same things (increased pay, a promotion, access to resources, etc) is very likely being entitled.

For all the trouble entitlement can cause, it is fortunate that the ‘solution’ to the problem is, at least in concept, a simple one. It is Meritocracy. Merriam-Webster defines meritocracy as “a system, organization, or society in which people are chosen and moved into positions of success, power, and influence on the basis of their demonstrated abilities and merit”.

How does this work? It is very difficult to act entitled when all requests are based on merit. So, for example if someone believes they “deserve” a promotion, they have to provide the merits of their case by proving the results they have achieved, the effort they went to in order to do so, and how those results had a positive impact on themselves, the team and the business. Therefore being entitled because of “who one is”, “who they know”, “how valuable they think they are” simply cannot flourish in an organization which tracks and rewards results.

An example is manager who I knew who was failing at his job, but kept on reminding everyone that he had an advanced degree in management. In his case knowing was not doing. He felt entitled because of his studies, but as he could not turn knowledge into action he could not show great results for him and his team. 

Recognising people based on their contributions & achievements will force an entitled person to put in the work before they can even ask about the rewards. In our next blog we are going to take a look at how we use meritocracy to eradicate entitlement.