By Bonnie Cox
An employee walked out of the company with a laptop computer —with no intent of ever returning it. When confronted, the employee said, “I feel I deserve it. It is the least the company owes me for cutting my hours!” If you’ve been in HR, you’ll recognize this attitude as the “entitlement mentality.”
An entitlement mentality is a “state of mind whereby a person feels they have a right [or entitlement] to” something. And that something usually belongs to someone else ... like the employer.
An attitude of entitlement goes hand in hand with another management principle called the equity theory – the relationship between an employee’s motivation and their perception of being treated fairly. In other words, employees have their own perceptions of what is fair. If an employee perceives that someone else is unfairly getting more than they are, they will attempt to level the playing field. To do so, they may resort to fraud, sabotage, or outright theft. In the situation above, the employee perceived that a cutback in his hours was unfair; thus, he was “entitled” to steal a computer (to make the scores even again).
Unfortunately, these situations happen more often than we think. Oh, employees may not often steal a laptop computer, but they may “get even” in other ways. For example: stealing time (padding one ’s timecard), stealing supplies (for personal use), or stealing loyalty (badmouthing the company).
I once worked with a company that operated 24/7 (24-hours per day, 7 days per week). One of the supervisors was asked to work the night shift. He was responsible for overseeing the employees, keeping the environment safe, and meeting the production requirements. Having previously been on the day shift, he resented being put on nights. His way of getting even was to sleep for several hours a night on the couch in the main Conference Room. The employees all knew he was upstairs sleeping. He not only lost credibility with his people but he eventually lost his job. When his motivation tanked, he tried to steal time to even the score.
Three Ideas for Equity
What can you do? Here are three ideas for creating a more equitable workplace:
Be observant. Disgruntled employees generally give signals that things are not right. Early on they will engage in “leaving” or “avoiding” behaviors: being late, absent, or taking unauthorized leaves of absence. Or they may under-produce by simply laying down on the job — doing only enough to get by and stay off the radar screen.
Listen and ask questions. Most disgruntled employees want to talk. They want us to ask how they are so they can tell us about their hurts (based on their perception). By asking well-honed, open-ended questions (such as when, where, why, and how), we can listen our way to a meaningful conversation. Encourage employees to keep talking by uttering encouraging words like, “tell me more ... um- hmm . . .“ The most thing to remember is: it is imperative that we ask and not tell. Most managers want to tell, tell, tell. The secret here is to ask ... then listen.
It reminds me of an organization that once wanted to upgrade its assembly process. They hired expensive consultants to come in and run time and motion studies. They worked with suppliers to get just the right equipment. Then they spends hundreds of thousands of dollars to have it all installed. The problems started the minute the switch was flipped and the machinery rolled into action. You see, the company had forgotten to include the employees who worked on the line. They told me later, “if they had only asked us, we could have told them that x and y wouldn’t work. But no, they didn’t ask us a thing! They just hired their expensive consultants to come up with all the answers.” Here was a group of people who knew the answers—and who were entitled to give their input—but who were excluded from the process. The workers finally threw up their hands and said, “Fine. Whatever. They didn’t ask us so now they can just figure out how to get their production out the door.”
Institute good checks and balances. Create accountability systems. Make it more difficult for people to cheat, steal, or scam. If we realize that desperate people do desperate things, we can help by creating obstacles to make theft less tempting (such as publishing guidelines for safety, security, and consequences). Some companies mark all hardware and equipment with fixed asset property “tags” that set off detectors if they try to leave the building. Other companies install motion detectors or cameras at all entrances/exits. They may also publish a “one-strike-and-you’re-out,” zero-tolerance policy in case of lost or stolen goods. When the guidelines and consequences are made clear and published, there is less temptation for theft.
Another good check and balance is working closely with your Human Resources department. They can help you spot perceived inequities before they backfire and disrupt the workplace.
By taking a few cautionary steps you can make sure the entitlement mentality doesn’t invade your company.
Bonnie Cox is Vice President of Training & Development for Select Staffing, as well as the founder of the Power Training Institute. Call (866) 456-TRAIN or email her AT firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.powertraining.biz