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A six-step guide on how to manage entitled employees

Some reports claim that gen Z is the most challenging generation to work with, giving rise to suggestions that they are overly entitled. However, entitlement isn’t a concept that is generationally bound.

Employees with high psychological entitlement morally rationalize their behavior to explain workplace outcomes in a self-serving manner and always see themselves positively.

Research shows they have lower levels of engagement, are more likely to engage in unethical behavior, have more conflict with their supervisor, and consider malicious and self-serving actions acceptable if it helps them progress.

As a leader, failing to manage an entitled employee effectively can impact the rest of the team. Be ready to spot the warning signs and act on them. Here are six essential steps to take.

Know the warning signs

Entitlement at work can take many forms. For example, your team member can expect more pay than their peers, even though they do less work and add less value.

They may expect always to be promoted, offered the best opportunities or receive a bonus every year, even if the company’s performance has deteriorated.

They may assume they can pick and choose the tasks they want to do, have their organization or boss manage their career for them, or take breaks, holidays or time off whenever it suits them.

It’s all "me, me, me", and they rarely – if ever – consider the impact their behavior or wants have on those around them. They see themselves as number one.

Clarify expectations

With entitlement, there is a gap in expectations. The best way to address this is to talk with the team member. The purpose of the conversation is to get clear on the following:

  • Their expectations
  • Your expectations
  • The gap between the two

For example, if they expect a pay raise, discuss what they must demonstrate to secure one. If the team member always wants the Friday off before a public holiday, work through the options and what is fair for other team members.

Get ready for the conversation

Don’t walk into a conversation of this nature unprepared. You want to get ready for it.

For example, think about the best time of day and be equipped with specific situations to discuss with your team member. This conversation isn’t one-sided. Seek to understand your team member’s motivation and career drivers and approach the discussion openly.

There may be some legitimacy to their claims or expectations. Be ready to hear their perspective.

Seek to understand your team member’s motivation and career drivers and approach the discussion openly.

When you have that information, you can work through the options and be specific about what’s realistic, given their role and contribution.

Ideally, you will both walk away from the conversation understanding each other’s perspective and have aligned expectations and a clear way forward. Despite securing agreement on the way forward, recognize that the commitment to change – and seeing evidence of the change – may take several conversations.

Monitor progress

You will want to monitor outcomes and their progress. Notice where you see improvement and where you aren’t. For change to happen, they must want to change, and you need to hold them to their commitments.

If they refuse to change, you need to consider their behavior’s impact on the rest of the team and if that impact is reasonable and something you wish to accept. If it’s not, consider going down a formal performance improvement path.

Be consistent and fair

In your approach and the outcomes, you must consistently apply expectations with the team member and across the team. You don’t want to be unfair or play favorites.

Team members are acutely aware of when leaders treat people differently. They notice when a person is rewarded or promoted unfairly.

Team members are acutely aware of when leaders treat people differently.

Of course, what is fair or unfair is based on a person’s interpretation of what’s happening, so perception plays a large part in a person’s view.

Regardless of that perception’s merit (or otherwise), it negatively impacts individual motivation and the team’s morale and can lead to unethical behavior. As a leader, you play a crucial role in ensuring that you pay your team members fairly and recognize their work and performance equitably.

Focus on teamwork

The emphasis is on teamwork, and while team members contribute in different ways, for a healthy team dynamic you want each person appreciating the value their colleagues offer.

Michelle Gibbings is a workplace expert and the award-winning author of three books. Her latest book is Bad Boss: What to do if you work for one, manage one or are one.

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