Worker has case of ‘entitlement mentality’? How to cure it

narcissistic businessmanThe entitlement mentality comes in all colors of the rainbow, from employees complaining if they have to work late, demanding perks, wanting to be consulted before any workplace change is made, and thinking they can do no wrong.

And the entitlement mentality isn’t limited to the stereotypical Millennial who grew up getting a trophy just for showing up or to older or long-term employees who feel that they’ve “paid their dues” and think they can just coast.

One would think that in this economy, people would be grateful to have a job and get a paycheck instead of complaining about actually having to work to earn their paycheck. While your gut may want to scream this at these employees, your head knows better. Here’s what you should do instead to burst employees’ “me me me” bubbles.

Call them on their behavior. Letting it slide gives tacit approval, encouraging employees’ belief that they deserve the entitlement. You must let employees know that their behavior is unacceptable and their expectations unreasonable. Ask the employee to explain the reason behind his or her demand or complaint, in order to start a dialogue in which you can dispel erroneous notions, clarify job requirements, etc.  

State specific business expectations. “Tell the employee, ‘This is what you need to do to meet business goals,’” says Rebecca Mazin, co-founder of Recruit Right, of Larchmont, N.Y.

Repeat these expectations ad nauseam, if necessary. Don’t be afraid to sound like a broken record. “Keep the focus on business expectations,” Mazin says, “not on personal expectations.” Follow up by asking: “Is what you’re doing ­meeting customer needs?”  

Keep your emotions in check. Em­­ployees with an entitlement mentality are frustrating to deal with, no doubt. They can push your buttons and cause you to say something that you’ll later regret. Mazin recounted an experience early in her career where, in the course of a con­­ver­sation with an employee who persisted in thinking that he was entitled to a promotion, she told the em­ployee: “You wouldn’t work for me.” That phrase came back to haunt her in the form of a discrimination lawsuit. Although the company won, the lesson was engrained in Mazin: “Say it comfortably, say it ­consistently.”

Mazin also advises resisting the urge to say, “I did it, you should, too,” be­­cause it will “only add to more whining.”

Be positive. Mazin discourages managers from stating so bluntly, “If you don’t like it here, leave.”  She recommends putting a positive spin on it. Tell the employee: “You’re in a good place” or “This is a really good place to work,” and here’s why. “This is what you need to do to continue working here.” Give the employee the chance to shape up, rather than just telling him to ship out.

Promote ownership over entitlement. Turn the tables and ask the em­­ployees what they are doing for the company, i.e., what is the company entitled to from them? If applicable, you can also respond to a complaint by suggesting that they work to change whatever displeases them.

Document bad behavior. Keep de­­tailed notes of their entitlement behavior if it continues, so you will be able to support any resulting disciplinary actions.

Could the complaint be legitimate?

Not all “whining” should be immediately discounted. Listen to the employee’s justification and assess the reasonableness of the complaint.

For example, there is a difference between an employee who complains because her supervisor asked her to work overtime (whining) and one who complains because his supervisor told him he was working overtime because he has no kids to go home to (legitimate complaint).  

Recognizing this subtle difference can help a manager spot a potential discrimination lawsuit (legitimate complaint) or address a problem employee (a chronic complainer).