Entitled Employees? We’ve Created A Monster!

Employer paid health insurance, dental, tuition reimbursement, onsite daycare, commuter benefits, fair salary, bonuses, take your kids to work day, summer hours, pizza on holidays, margaritas on Cinco de Mayo…

What more do they want???? Well, how much more will you give?

I was facilitating a program for HR practitioners recently and one woman was simply exasperated. As a generalist, she just wanted happy employees. That’s it. If she could have one thing that would make the biggest positive difference in her work it was to have happy employees.

When we began an exercise to generate the options she had available to achieve that goal, she stopped and said “I need to start by listing all the things we already do for them”. She then listed for the group the litany of benefits and concessions the company had given employees in an effort to increase satisfaction and motivation. She was surprised when I suggested that she may have given them too much.

The importance of saying no

In an article of the same title, Ed Brodow, negotiation expert, relates a story about the dangers of saying yes. He says: “Consider … the typical sales situation. The buyer wants a lower price, quicker delivery, better terms, etc. If we give in to all of these demands, it will only (a) serve to raise the buyer’s expectations and (b) lower the buyer’s perception of value. “I should have asked for more,” the buyer will complain and, bingo, you have a dissatisfied customer on your hands. The buyer now perceives your product is not as good as you said it was. If it was that good, why would you be giving in? But when you say no, I’m sorry but we can’t do that, the buyer’s perception is that he pushed you as far as you would go. He thinks he got a great deal.

Translating this to the workplace, we should wonder what message we are sending with the benefits we offer. If they are in place to strategically attract and retain the type of employees the business requires, that’s one thing. If they are in place as a response to low morale or lack of engagement, you may be treading in dangerous territory. What are you saying about the meaning and value of the work itself? That it’s not good enough.

Extrinsic vs Intrinsic Motivation

For decades we’ve been using a behavioral psychology model of work reward: salary, benefits, praise, traditional performance management – which all have their place for sure. But then we wonder why we have such entitled employees. It’s because we’ve trained them to be so.

Our efforts have been so focused on what we can give or take from employees to make the company goals and finances balance out, that we’ve created a new currency of sorts: one consisting of benefits, flexibility, environment – whatever it takes, really – to assign value to performance. Inadvertently, by using this approach, we assign a value to the work itself: one that is inversely proportional to that of the performance.

Idealistic Visions of Organizational “Flow”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes “flow state” as: “an optimal state of intrinsic motivation where the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing, …characterized by a feeling of great absorption, engagement, fulfillment, and skill—and during which temporal concerns (time, food, ego-self, etc.) are typically ignored.”

What if employees were selected and retained on the basis of their ability to achieve “flow state” doing their job? (I’ll let you bask in that nirvana for a moment…). Seriously, though. Some people love their jobs. Some people love their jobs so much that they lose themselves in the work. Is it so farfetched, then, to think that people might find or be selected for work that results in…well, okay, maybe not a constant state of flow but could we maybe shoot for “a largely pleasant, intrinsically satisfying experience independent of whether we also have Corona’s available on Cinco de Mayo”?

Fostering intrinsic motivation

Recent research supports a shift away from an extrinsic focus and gives us new options for developing intrinsic motivation and engagement. Models and programs coming out of the neuroscience and neuropsychology fields will be transformative for organizations and individuals alike and will translate to exciting new techniques for recruiting, selection, teambuilding, retention, productivity and more.

Monsters? Not really.

It’s about motivation.

2 thoughts on “Entitled Employees? We’ve Created A Monster!

  1. Hi Julie,

    Let’s not forget that all these “entitlements” are part of employees’ total compensation. If they are viewed as entitlements, perhaps it is because employers have hidden them in benefit packages. The purpose of these packages was to make employees secure in the care of themselves and their families so that they could be fully engaged in their work, creating value for their companies. If that is no longer a workable model, maybe we should outsource benefits to the government. That would level the playing field and free employers to attend to their real business.

    Dan Nicholes

    • Thanks for your comment, Dan! I agree with you that fair salary and paid benefits are basics and should be expected (where things like health care come from is a hot topic of debate as we know).
      Even some extras like tuition reimbursement, on-site daycare absolutely helps mitigate the reality of spending a majority of time at work. My cautionary words are directed more at the type of benefits under the category of Margaritas and Coronas on Cinqo de Mayo, ice cream truck visits on Wednesdays, early release on the day before the day before a holiday (and no that wasn’t a typo). Or more specifically the “why” of those benefits. Those are not necessarily entitlement causers if in fact the company has built a strong culture to support purposeful engagement at work. For instance, Google has given progressive thought to what kind of employees they want: intrinsically motivated, get-a-kick-out-of their-job, stay-all-night developers. They strategically built a benefits structure to support that (ie providing developers a percentage of time to “play” with new concepts of their own devising, onsite food, play and training, etc.). This is a strong approach to employee recruitment and retention – and it’s purposeful.


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