Entitlement in the Workplace

08/20/2014     

Picture this: You’re at your company’s quarterly All Hands meeting. It’s Q&A time with top leaders where anyone can ask anything . . . and every time, people continually ask about getting more free perks around the office. True story.  

The truth is no organization - not even Zappos - is immune to the virus of entitlement.

There’s a phrase around Zappos that stems from ‘first world problems’ called ‘Zappos work problems’, because we’ve all caught ourselves complaining about the office temperature, free food options, or 'having' to go to a free happy hour. The best part about it is that it brings up the conversation in a funny, non-threatening way. Now we catch ourselves by prefacing, “Zappos work problems, I know . . . ” It’s a start, right?(; It’s typical for normalization to happen after we get something amazing. It’s like when you’re a kid and you get that coveted toy you wanted - two weeks later it’s sitting around unused. We start shifting our gaze to the next big thing or we start wanting what everyone else has.

Every company wants to attract top talent. Beyond what may be considered routine benefits, organizations try to set themselves apart with rare and coveted perks, and it’s only natural for sought-after applicants to weigh all the pros and cons among job offers. Multiple factors go into deciding where to work, and the tipping point is different for everyone. But in all the comparing and wanting, is something getting lost? Just a few short years ago, the prevailing collective mindset was, “I’m grateful to have a job/keep a job/get a job.” Now it seems to have shifted to, “my organization should be grateful to have me.” So what changed? A scarcity of job openings evolved into a scarcity of talent. Is entitlement less like a virus and more like a self-inflicted wound?

Well, yes and no. Top talent will always be a hot commodity and entitlement is not a new challenge. Any company who values its culture is susceptible to entitlement flare-ups. “Entitlement can be an issue from day one, especially if you focus on culture and taking care of your employees,” says Christa Foley, Senior Manager of HR and Zappos Insights. No business is exempt - large or small, brand new or well established. But at its root, entitlement starts with the individual, and it’s when the sense of urgency of the job search fades and complacency sets in that employees are the most primed for it.

So what are some of the symptoms, and what is the treatment?

Symptoms include, but may not be limited to:

  • Complaining without offering solutions
  • Negative attitude
  • Doesn't take feedback well
  • Lack of humility/feels superior to others
  • Conflicts with coworkers
  • Not taking responsibility
  • Resistance to change/ inflexibility

Solutions:

Transparency: When companies and their leaders are open and honest about where the company is, what its challenges are, and what it is working toward, it helps current tensions be voiced and addressed.

Resetting Expectations:  “You need to shake things up and realize where you are,” says Rachael Brown, lead link of zProject. Sometimes all we need is a small shift in perspective to be reminded of how good we have it. Whether it’s by reminiscing about past places of employment or talking with friends who think your job is awesome by comparison, looking at where you are through fresh eyes can be invaluable.

Recruiting: Asking the right questions and vetting for behaviors that show humility and a willingness to help and contribute to company growth and evolution.

Higher Purpose: Having a shared vision and common goal as an organization encourages a collective drive and motivation. “We’re looking for purpose. Purpose for us means everything,” says Brown.

Company History: Newer employees may not know the sacrifices that their company was built on. Reviewing a company’s history can help renew that common goal and understanding of where we started and how we got to where we are. Zappos does this through its internal history class so that newer employees know the milestones and struggles, as well as the mistakes. Regularly sharing an organization’s history gives all employees a chance to reconnect with where they work.

Recommitting to Core Values: What sets a company’s core values apart from others are those that are actionable and committable. We’ve all been to places where we see a plaque on the wall and then receive the opposite service. One way that Zappos offers employees to recommit is at the end of New Hire Training. After the four-week training period, everyone is offered one month’s pay to quit. The pay-to-quit offer makes new employees really think about if they feel Zappos is the right place for them, and if they are right for Zappos. Less than 1% take the offer annually.

Entitlement, like any illness, slows an organization down. And, like any illness, it’s painful. But it’s also sending a useful message that something is wrong and that things need to change. No one wants to get sick, but when we do, it’s a wake-up call for which we’re sometimes grateful. Entitlement can be a wake-up call to any company and offers an opportunity to revisit the company’s history, reset expectations, and recommit to the overall goals your organization wants to achieve.

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Author: Erica Spelman

Tags: Culture

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