Updated: Feb 27
If you have been in the workforce for a number of years you have probably heard something similar to the following. “I’ve done my time in the trenches. I don’t have to do that kind of work anymore.”
This is a prime example of entitlement. If the statement is peer to peer, and the organization has strong leadership emphasizing teamwork, then this type of thinking can easily be redirected.
Unfortunately, more often than not, a statement like this will come from a position of leadership. For years an employee has been saddled with grunt work while their bosses or supervisors sat back and enjoyed a higher paycheck. A promotion is finally attained and the thought process is, “I’m a supervisor now. I get to tell others what to do.”
This recently promoted employee is merely copying what he or she witnessed. The leadership was already infected with a sense of entitlement, and now it continues to spread. It is thinking I will not allow at any business I own.
Entitlement is not industry specific. It is not an infection solely relegated to the service sector. I’ve seen it in the manufacturing industry, and I’ve witnessed it on a maintenance floor in a Marine Corps squadron. “I’m a shift manager now. I no longer have to sweep the floors.”
In the early days of running The Coffee Shelf I had to return one evening, after a 10-hour shift making coffee, to stand in and help close the shop due to a Barista becoming ill and leaving shift early.
The closing crew at The Coffee Shelf has two basic positions; the closer up front, and the assistant washing dishes in the back. Most Baristas prefer to be the closer up front.
The person I was replacing this particular evening had been scheduled in the assistant position. When I arrived I asked the closing Barista a question. “I’m here to fill in, do you know what that means?”
She replied as I would expect. That she would now have to move to the assistant position so I, as the boss and owner, could have the easier job of closing the Barista Station. I replied, “Nope. I’m washing dishes. It would be unfair for you to have to wash dishes just because the boss had to fill in for an employee leaving shift early.”
I hold many strong views about leadership. Among them, I view leaders as servants. The job of a leader is to make sure the members of his or her team are taken care of. The leader's primary job is to assist, NOT direct. When I’m training a supervisor or manager, one of the things I’ll repeat to them often is how, when they do get promoted, they will be working harder than their teammates. They will be the first out to the lobby to clean tables. They will be the first to restock after a rush.
As a supervisor or manager at The Coffee Shelf, your primary focus is ensuring your team has a positive experience during shift. This is not always possible. We are all humans living a life, meeting the challenges we experience on an almost daily basis. How you and your leadership reacts to your employees when life happens will make all the difference in how they view your business.
Two scenarios might help to emphasize this point:
Scenario one. An employee arrives for shift after an upsetting day at school. The supervisor is already there, and immediately begins directing the employee to do menial chores while the supervisor is texting on a smartphone.
Scenario two. An employee arrives for shift after an upsetting day at school. The supervisor recognizes this and says, “Hey. Sorry you are having a tough day. We need to restock real quick and the tables are dirty. If you can handle the register and watch for customers, I’ll get to that stuff. If we need to talk later we can do that.”
Scenario one involves a leader who has “been there and done that.” The supervisor, perhaps after years of performing menial chores, felt those things were now beneath him or her. He or she felt entitled to direct rather than mentor.
The employee who arrived upset, in scenario one, may not mind this initially. Perhaps the employee in question considers it a part of the job. Eventually, however, this employee will be pushed too far and will quit. An adage applies here. People do not quit their jobs. They quit their bosses.
The employee in scenario two is going to gain confidence in situations like this. They are going to view their job as a safe place. A place where they can bring their problems to work and still be welcome. As a leader you are not always going to say the perfect thing at the perfect time. It’s not about being perfect. It’s about caring.
Entitlement is an infection for many reasons. It can cause your employees to dread their shifts. They know they’ll be forced to carry the brunt of the work because the supervisor or manager has done their time. If the employee sticks it out instead of quitting, this becomes a domino effect. Now the employee desires promotion so they in turn no longer have to perform those menial tasks. It’s the wrong reason to want a promotion. If they don’t get promoted soon enough, they leave.
Entitlement among leadership creates a toxic environment. It causes employees to feel like lower class citizens.
If you have a high turnover rate at your business, this is one area where you may want to take a hard look. How is your leadership treating your employees?
Don’t let entitlement infect your workplace. Stamp it out. For me, a sense of entitlement by a leader is a fireable offense if the person in question does not correct this type of attitude. I simply will not allow it.
There are many things which can upset a great team environment. Entitlement might be the most pervasive of them all.