I Want it Now: Entitlement in the Workplace

Veruca SaltEntitlement: the condition of having a right to have, do, or get something; the feeling or belief that you deserve to be given something (such as special privileges) Merriam-Webster

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I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the damage that can be done – unintended consequences for the most part – when organizational leaders or well-intentioned HR professionals devise activities, reward programs, benefit packages, or other conditions of employment that create a feeling of entitlement amongst employees.

These sorts of things often start off quite innocently and are usually designed to address a critical business need. Countless HR directors have rolled out Attendance Bonus programs designed to ensure employees get to work on time and them scratched their head in wonderment when the only employees actually receiving any Attendance Bonus payouts are the same employees who have always reported to work on time.

And that’s not the only one that’s a favorite for HR folks to turn into some sort of ‘program’ – they’re also quite fond of over-thinking and over-crafting things like providing free snacks in the break room, running employee referral programs, and providing employer-covered supplemental benefit programs. I’ve seen HR professionals run in circles to provide free monthly car washes in the employee parking lot. I watched an HR manager wear herself out managing the logistical nightmare created when she decided to provide on-site flu shots for, at the end of the day, a meager percentage of her company’s employees.

So why do it? Oh sure, sometimes there’s a strategic reason related to talent attraction/retention. Or so company executives and talent acquisition leaders will say.

But seriously? At what stage did we enter this alternate universe where stuff like ongoing access to sleep-pods and the correct type of kale on the (free) salad bar in the cafeteria is expected in the workplace? Demanded by applicants? A reason whether an employee will prolong the employment relationship with a specific company?

Crazy.

Now I’m certainly not saying we should never strive to do the extras or provide added enticements to either attract candidates or enrich the employment experience for employees. If the pay is where it should be (or better) and the working conditions fit the talent pool and meet the needs of the business, then go  as wild as you want having pizza day, putting bean bag chairs in the conference rooms and providing pet insurance at no cost. Knock yourself out.

These sorts of things are nice and fluffy and let over-worked and under-appreciated HR ladies feel good about themselves. Of course it’s quite likely they’re not much more than window-dressing even though they land you a spot on some local “Best Employer List.” It’s also highly probable these initiatives are doing nothing to ‘impact the bottom line’ (which you like to tell your executive team at the quarterly staff meeting) since I bet you’re not performing any sort of cost-benefit analysis.

And maybe that’s OK; sometimes within a manageable scope and scale we just like to do nice things. Or maybe everyone in HR just wants to be able to bring their dogs to work too.

Just remember …  Yahoo ended work from homeBest Buy cancelled ROWE and that worn-out HR Manager cancelled the annual flu shot extravaganza.

So ask yourself this: “If, one day, we need to eliminate this activity, reward program, benefit package, or other condition of employment, how will that play in Peoria?”

THAT – my friends – is the million dollar question.

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