The scourge of the Entitlement Generation

Oct 04 2005 by Brian Amble Print This Article

The work ethic of new entrants into the labour market is under assault. The "Entitlement Generation" - those born between 1979 and 1994 - have been described as impatient, self-serving, disloyal, unable to delay gratification - in short, feeling that they are entitled to everything without working for it.

But is this perception justified? Wayne Hochwarter, an associate professor of management in Florida State University's College of Business, recently conducted a study to see if the perception of entitlement exists in organisations and, if it does, how it affects employees at work.

His research, which examined the attitudes of nearly 600 employees across a wide range of occupations, suggests that perceptions of entitlement are alive and well in many companies.

For example, Hochwarter found that half (55 per cent) of workers believe that many employees act as if they are more deserving than others at work without "paying their dues".

"I don't know where these kids come off thinking they are entitled to things it took me 20 years to get," a Chicago management consultant told the researchers.

Graduates aren't willing to do the grunt work necessary to learn the job, but they sure want the perks
"College grads aren't willing to do the grunt work necessary to learn the job, but they sure want the perks," added a vice president of human resources.

The effects of these attitudes on group dynamics were marked. When employees reported that others in their work group "acted entitled", the researchers found that job satisfaction, motivation, productivity and engagement all suffered.

Not only were employees not concentrating as much on their work, they were less

passionate, less likely to keep their word, less empathetic toward others and less likely to offer social support to colleagues.

In groups infected by 'Entitlementitis', workers reported more tense relationships and even higher levels of workplace depression.

Hochwarter's findings also indicate that the phenomenon affects differenent age groups in different ways. For example, younger employees (those ages 30 and younger) reported more perceived entitlement than older workers (those ages 50 and older) - and their attitudes reflected these disparities.

Younger employee reported 600 per cent more job dissatisfaction than older employees and 50 per cent more job tension when co-workers acted entitled.

"It is clear that perceived entitlement is a greater threat to younger employees than older ones," Hochwarter said.

"Typically, older employees are more secure and have gotten what they want out of their jobs. Since many younger employees have not, they are afraid that others are going to use manipulation to get what they want, rather than working for it."

But its is not all bad news. As Hochwarter also pointed out, the Entitlement Generation also brings a great deal of talent, energy and technical savvy to the workplace.

What this means is that managers who assume all employees have the same needs at work and can be handled in the same are going to have a difficult time getting the best out of their younger workers.

"It is necessary to develop long-term career plans for all employees," Hochwarter said. "However, it is increasingly important to do so with employees fresh out of school.

If the demands of the "entitlement generation" are not at the very least recognised as an issue, it can have an insidious, long-term effect on the workplace, Hochwater argued. "These individuals will not put up with the ambiguity that saturates most work settings. If they don't know where they can get, how to get there, and what it will get them, they are not going to 'buy in' to the objectives of the firm."