Though aspersions are most often cast at the youngest generations – Gen Y/Millennials now and Gen Xers before them – entitlement attitudes are found in all generations. Whitney Johnson, a founding partner of Rose Park Advisors, wrote on a Harvard Business Review blog “Entitlement is pervasive in American culture.”
Johnson offers these examples:
“The athletes and coaches who traffic drugs or abuse children because the rules don't apply to them; millennials who, at a time of high unemployment, expect more concessions and perks, not fewer; politicians who can legally buy and sell stock based on non-public information.” In a business, entitlement inhibits innovation. Johnson also mentions entitlement mentality playing out for an individual: “It enters the picture when I think I have the right to something, like a promotion, just because I showed up. Or I expect someone to do me a favor, without any reciprocity, just because I need it. Failing to acknowledge the hard work of other people can be a form of entitlement. As can becoming a benevolent dictator to my staff, deciding that seeking consensus is no longer required. After all, I know what's best for my employees, because I am literally en-titled.”
I often cite the examples of partners or senior executives who feel they are entitled in poor economic times for their firms to get as much compensation as in the firm’s best year; or when a partner or manager makes last minute assignments and ruins juniors’ evening or weekend plans when they could have planned ahead.
Another instance Johnson raises is when managers place a higher priority on being liked than managing the organization well. This last attitude is likely to be exacerbated by people fulfilling requests to click “like” in social media just because they are asked to (like a high school popularity contest), rather than considering the quality of the item.
I keep coming back to the entitlement issue in my talks and writing because it’s divisive and antithetical to creating more harmony among the different generations in the workplace. While each generation, holder of position of authority (whichever generation), and new entrant into the workplace culture can recognize another’s entitlement behavior, they also need to be aware of their own. And beyond awareness, they need to change that unproductive and offending behavior.
Let’s remove the “entitled” word from generational characterizations and focus on behavior. By more specifically naming it, eliminating tolerance for it and modeling desirable behavior, we can increase generational harmony, productivity, retention and engagement.
Please share you thoughts.
© Phyllis Weiss Haserot, 2012.
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* The generational chronology for easy reference: Generations are defined by the similar formative influences – social, cultural, political, economic – that existed as the individuals of particular birth cohorts were in adolescent-early adult years. Given that premise, the age breakdowns for each of the four generations currently in the workplace are approximately:
Traditionalists: born 1925-1942
Baby Boomers born 1943-1962
Generation X born 1963-1978
Generation Y/Millennials born 1979-1998
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