Professional Jeweler Archive: Is Entitlement Hurting Your Company?

August 2002


Is Entitlement Hurting Your Company?

Your workplace can reflect a culture of entitlement or a culture of merit. The latter is vital to your organization's success

For decades, business has allowed entitlement models such as “all are equal” and “subsidize those who can’t make it on their own” entitlement models to encroach on the culture of merit needed to optimize performance. Entitlement is sometimes described as an attitude where people believe they deserve what they get because it’s owed to them. In this culture people take for granted what they have and keep asking for more – what’s done for them is never enough. They focus more on what they are owed than what they owe.

Society has moved increasingly toward entitlement, and businesses carry some of the blame. In fact, the culture of entitlement in business hit full stride in the years following World War II, when there were too few workers to fill jobs in a booming economy. Because of this shortage, it was nearly impossible to get fired. When managers no longer required results and corporations stopped demanding performance as a condition for keeping a job or getting a raise, the culture of entitlement spread.

Enabling Behaviors

Here is an eight-point checklist to determine whether you have a culture of entitlement in your workplace:

  1. You give promotions and keep people in jobs based on tenure rather than performance.
  2. You give Christmas bonuses because it’s Christmas, not because people earned them.
  3. You dish out end-of-the-year raises because it’s the end of the year, not because people went the extra mile.
  4. You dump countless dollars into incentive programs and contests that enrich everyone regardless of whether they deserve to participate based on past performance.
  5. You hold pointless employee reviews and evaluations rather than tell people they are failing.
  6. You set no-brainer performance standards designed to make people feel comfortable rather than stretch them with a higher bar.
  7. You spend equal time, energy and resources on every employee instead of pouring more into the top performers who earned it.
  8. You would rather be well-liked and popular than confront poor performance and hold others accountable for the results.

Rewarding Work

The culture of merit needed in the workplace often conflicts with the entitlement model. Here are seven hallmarks of a merit culture:

  1. You fully support and leverage the strongest people in your workplace and weed out the weak links.
  2. You distribute recognition, rewards and opportunities based on what people earn and deserve, not equally to all.
  3. You hold people accountable. If they can’t meet performance standards, they lose their jobs. In a merit culture, leaders are not afraid to terminate those who don’ t make the grade.
  4. No tenure, experience or credentials substitutes for results.
  5. A culture of merit creates an environment hostile to mediocrity and instills positive peer pressure to perform.
  6. People in a merit culture feel anxiety to get results. While too much anxiety and pressure is detrimental to performance, so is too little. In a culture of merit, an optimal level is attained and maintained. People want to be held accountable.
  7. In a culture of merit, “firing” is not a bad word. When an employee is forced to leave the company, it’s not for “personal reasons” or to “explore other options”; it’s because he or she didn’t get the job done.

Culture Crash Course

To create a culture of merit, run your business more like a team than a family. While having “one big family” sounds warm and fuzzy, the family model has serious flaws for a business. In a family, for example, everyone is accepted strictly because they belong – not because they perform. Membership in a family is the epitome of entitlement; it’s assumed, not earned.

On the other hand, people on a team must earn their way and are judged and rewarded based on their contributions. Team members are held accountable for results, not effort. Non-performers find themselves off the team.

Moving from a culture of entitlement to a culture of merit takes time and courage. Entitled people resist stretching and accountability. During the transition from entitlement to merit-based performance, the morale of entitled employees will diminish. You must set new expectations, establish accountability and sustain pressure to perform long enough to let your employees know you mean business.

You also must show people how to earn their way into merit. Give them the tools, coaching and support they need to make the transition. You can’t manage or administer your people from entitlement to merit; you must lead them there.

– Dave Anderson

Dave Anderson is the author of No-Nonsense Leadership: Real World Strategies to Maximize Personal and Corporate Potential. He is an author, trainer and speaker for leadership and sales. For more information, call (650) 941-1493 or visit

Copyright © 2002 by Bond Communications