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EQ...BUT NOT THAT EQ! - September 30, 2021

EQ, or Emotional Intelligence is a popular topic. Many books have been published and blog posts written about the subject. A key component of emotional intelligence is empathy, or the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and truly understand their point of view. With empathy we can adjust our approach to certain situations and arrive at a better place in disputes or discussions.

This post isn’t about that kind of EQ.

Here, I’m referring to the Entitlement Quotient...the relative measure of how entitled a person feels.

This may not be a formal concept yet in human sociology, but it’s a tool I’ve arrived at through many years of dealing with people. Like empathy or emotional intelligence, it helps me better understand whom I’m dealing with, and how best to engage and handle them.

I’ll be honest; I don’t have a lot of time for people who feel entitled. However, we don’t always get to choose who we work with or have to deal with regularly, so we have to find ways to engage and still get things done. Understanding how entitled someone feels is a good tool to have.

People who feel highly entitled may be strong contributors to an organization; to ensure you get the most out of them as a manager or leader without having them drive you crazy, or their team members crazy, is tricky. You cannot come out and say that the world doesn’t revolve around them and their personal interests, but as a leader you can professionally remind them that they work for a company whose primary objective is to sell products and make a profit. And so, for example, their desire to attend 2pm yoga classes won’t fly and is unfair to the rest of their team who are working to meet company deadlines and be available for their teammates.

Mild or slight entitlement tendencies are easier to manage around, and as a leader you may be able to accommodate most of their personal priorities. It is important to understand that when you’re doing this, you think through any precedents you may be setting. Precedent setting is very dangerous as your team will see the accommodations you made for a staff member but they won’t see all of the underlying circumstances that lead to your allowances. Be very careful on this, or being nice will come back to haunt you. A former supervisor of mine, Luke Smith, used to say, “No good deed goes unpunished…”.

Why do people feel entitled? It could be because of their they were nurtured. Or it could simply be their nature...the old nature vs. nurture debate. The degree of entitlement a person has also depends on their prior experiences and how much they were allowed to have their personal interests take priority over those of the team or company, Unfortunately by the time you get them under your purview they may have been pandered to for years. Your time spent dealing with them, let alone undoing all of the hard-coded behaviour becomes tough. I’d never suggest you simply give in, but the amount of time you’ll need to spend getting them to see things beyond their personal priorities will go up. They will be more high maintenance, so you’d better be confident they are or will be high performers.

Here are some of the common forms of entitlement I’ve seen in the workplace:

  • A higher base salary than their prior experience or accomplishments warrant

  • More personal/vacation time than their years of service warrant

  • Expectations to lead a project they are not qualified for.

  • Expectations that the company allow them to schedule personal appointments in the midst of the workday, regardless of project or company priorities that may exist at the time.

  • Unwillingness to set aside non-urgent personal appointments or priorities to ensure team or company deliverables are met.

Dealing with these expectations is rarely a matter of simply saying yes or no. Saying no to any such expectations could have consequences and thus having an entitlement quotient for your team members is important. You need to know in advance what will happen when you say no. You also need to understand that if you say no repeatedly, no matter how ridiculous some expectations may be, there is likely a straw that breaks the camel’s back. So again, have a strong handle on how important the person is to your team or organization, before you say yes or no to someone’s ask who has a high entitlement quotient.

Another form of entitlement manifests itself when people don’t grasp the distinction between fair and equal. Team members who feel everyone should be treated equally are correct in that belief to some extent; some basic elements of work conditions and employment terms should be equal across the entire team. Things like respect, being treated fairly, a workplace that is free of bias, misogyny, verbal or physical abuse, some degree of flexibility, and basic statutory holidays should apply to all who work with your organization.

Fair is not the same as equal. Things like compensation, raises in salary, bonuses, project assignment, leadership positions, and extra time off should be applied fairly and based on the merits...a meritocracy. People with mild to significant entitlement quotients may struggle to understand that fair treatment, or meritocracy, is not the same as equal and that successful organizations don’t in fact treat everyone the same.

A team member’s goals or ambitions should not be confused for a sense of entitlement. Every person should have some targets for their career and want those people on your team. The difference lies in how they approach securing the rewards that come from achievement.

Do they expect to earn them? If so, spend as much time as needed helping them understand what they need to do to achieve their goals, within your organization. When they achieve, or come close to hitting the target after putting in a great effort, reward them and reward them fast. It’s important they get rewarded, to reinforce this goal-oriented behaviour, and it’s equally important their teammates see that strong performance is rewarded.

Or do they expect to be handed those rewards regardless of their performance? This is a form of entitlement. Handle these situations with care - it can have significant ramifications for your culture. Handing out unearned rewards will reinforce ingrained entitlement, and will open a pandora’s box of entitlement behaviour from teammates who saw unearned rewards being handed out. Not good.

I never developed a formal scale for an entitlement quotient. I simply go with “highly entitled”, “mildly entitled’, or “an insignificant amount of entitlement”. If you do develop a formal scale, let me know as I’d love to see it and adopt it. Either way, as you get to know your team members, get a handle on their entitlement quotient. It will serve you well as a leader or manager.

Thank you for investing time in reading this post. Questions and comments are always welcome.

Shail Paliwal

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