In Merriam-Webster, entitlement is defined as the condition of having a right to have, do, or get something. Or, belief that one is deserving of or entitled to certain privileges. When I was growing up, my father told me that there is no work that is beneath me, that I should always be eager to take on any work and put in my best effort to get it done.
Over the last 24 years, I took on work that I didn’t like, but did the work with a smile and got it done. I always put the team/firm’s best interest first and understood that sometimes someone needs to do the work that no one likes but gets the work done. I look at it as taking one for the team. I’m willing to wait my turn and let others take better assignments. I took my father’s advice to heart and waited to earn my keep.
As I moved up the management ranks and the Gen Y entered the workforce, I observed that they have a sense of entitlement. They know what they want and aren’t shy in letting people know what they don’t want. It creates a dilemma for people managing them because work that otherwise would be done will be left to more experienced folks to do because new employees have no interest of working their way up. Is this the sign of the times? They grow up taking and when they enter the workforce, it is time to give. However, they are accustomed to taking and think that they should continue that behavior. While some are still eager to work their way up, a good number of them just want to do things that they want.
Dr. Jean Twenge is the author of Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled and More Miserable Than Ever. Dr. Twenge of San Diego State University studied more than 16,400 students who took the Narcissistic Personality Inventory between 1982 and 2006. In 1982, only a third of the students scored above average on the test. Today that number is over 65%. This trend is alarming because self-centeredness will affect our ability to keep a competitive advantage, because folks halfway around the world are willing to do the same work to earn their stripes and get paid much less to do it. As a result, they gained the skills that could enable them to be more successful in the long run.
The age of technology advancement and the need to for instant gratification or what I call the “I want it NOW” mentality will prevent them from developing the skills they need to be well-rounded and better prepared for future opportunities. In the past, everyone worked their way up. With the new generation, where they want to pick and choose, it is becoming increasingly difficult to gain the foundational skills that are needed to enable them in the future.
When my daughter joined recreational sports a few years ago, I was surprised to see that everyone received a trophy at the end of the season. If I remember correctly, they only won one game and lost eight. In fact, my daughter was so upset each week as their opponent scored against them at will. 8-6, 4-2, etc. was the score of their opponents. I told my daughter that what was important was the they were trying their best. However, receiving that trophy was not right as they really did not achieve anything. It was hard for me to explain to my daughter; however, in the coming years she understood my point of view—akin to inflated grades to make children feel better, similar to mass promotion.
Gen Y’s need for affirmation and entitlement is spilling over to the work environment. If this pattern continues, we will fall behind and other countries will take the lead in the marketplace. We need to put entitlement into context and make sure they learn that they can be entitled to something only if they earn the credit by doing the work. It is a stark reminder that they need to work their way up. It’s leaders’ jobs to make sure that we educate the future leaders. If we want to succeed, rebaselining of their understanding is an important step in heading the right direction.
I do understand that this topic is a bit controversial, but if I don’t talk about it and raise awareness, I’m not doing the right thing. The question to ask is: Do I want to face the alternative that we will lose our competitive advantage? My answer is an emphatic “NO”. Let me know what you think. I’ll end my post with this quote by Earl Nightingale, “We will receive not what we idly wish for but what we justly earn. Our rewards will always be in exact proportion to our service.”