One of the more frequent complaints I encounter in the work I do is managers grumbling about entitled team members. And they’re not wrong. Entitlement is certainly alive and well in organisations the world over. It’s also not a phenomenon limited to Millennials and Gen Z’ers. I’ve come across plenty of senior managers who display many of the hallmarks of entitlement. In fact, my challenge to managers complaining about their entitled teams (at least when I’m familiar enough to be flippant), is to ask them why they feel they themselves are entitled to a team of fully formed, mature, generous employees in the first place. Maybe they’re the entitled ones, I quip.
In fact, I don’t believe that the challenge of dealing with entitled team members and direct reports is a new challenge at all. People focusing on what they are getting (or not getting – as is the case with entitlement) rather than what they are giving is at it’s core a function of personal and professional maturity. The more mature we are, the more we’re able to suspend our needs and focus on our values and impact. Maturity is also not a state, it’s a process. Our workplaces present opportunities every day for us to work on our own, and our people’s, transition from being primarily concerned with ourselves and what we’re getting to being primarily concerned with what we are contributing to others.
So, beyond the flippant, what can leaders do to address the issue of entitlement in our teams?
Well, it starts with acknowledging that, in all likelihood, we need to change before they are going to change. As leaders, we have become obsessed with getting the job done and seeing ‘results’. That is what we give our attention to. But getting the job done is not the same as getting the person done. Developing the person is a far more involved and deliberate process than monitoring a task. The benefits are clear in the long run, but we need to make time in the short-term.
Once we’ve made the time, perhaps some of the following steps might be helpful
A final point worth making, is that when leaders complain about entitled team members, they’re usually doing it because they see the negative consequences for themselves and other team members. In reality, the biggest loser is not the leader or even the team. The greatest negative impact of entitlement is actually to oneself, not others. It’s very difficult to be happy and entitled at the same time!