3 tips for breaking a negative fairness-entitlement cycle at work

A number of studies throughout the recession indicate that staff members do not feel that their organizations treated employees entirely honorably during the downturn. Reductions in force that broke the employment covenant and reductions in merit increases or raises have left many employees indicating that they will actively be seeking employment elsewhere when the economy improves.

Chris Edmonds, a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies, believes employers may start seeing a talent drain as early as the latter part of this year as staff begin seeking out positions with employers who will value them more highly. In the meantime, and perhaps even more damaging, these same workers are content to “quit and stay,” emotionally checking out on their current employers and just doing enough to remain below the radar and maintain their jobs.

Allowed to remain unchecked, this attitude can spread and soon an organization finds itself battling a general malaise and heaviness. Performance is sluggish, but improvement is hard to pinpoint. The organization is surviving, but it isn’t thriving. Worse yet, attitude and morale issues begin to surface as employees question the “fairness” of it all. This is often experienced as an entitlement mentality, something that many organizations are experiencing.

Breaking the negative cycle

A damaging negative cycle can ensue as managers bemoan the entitlement mentality of employees while employees point to a perceived injustice in the way work is assigned, managed, and rewarded. Once this cycle starts, it can be difficult to reverse. Organizations can hope that employees will rise above the situation, but a more likely scenario is that leaders will have to take the first step.

Looking to reverse a negative cycle in your organization?  Edmonds has three suggestions for leaders:

  1. Refocus on strategy. Identify key organizational objectives and connect department, team, and individual goals to overall strategy.
  2. Engage staff and leverage skills. Take a positive approach. Trade in a defensive posture seeking to “avoid mistakes” and instead move in a positive direction that explores strengths and possibilities.
  3. Support and serve. See your role as “chief obstacle remover” instead of “inspector general.” Make it easier for staff to work the plan without interference.

This is especially true with instances where managers are leading staff who have specialized skills, or who may be much more experienced, smarter, and skilled in their function than the leader is. As Edmonds explains, “A leader who manages with an assumption that they must control decisions in this environment will create a disaster. The leader needs to coach from the sideline, get the strategy clear, and then let the talent drive the appropriate activity. The leader needs to be kept informed so they can coach and refine the plan ‘in the moment’, but for the most part, enable the subject matter experts to act upon their knowledge.”

Leaders who set a strong vision, develop an aligned strategy, and engage talented staff in pursuit of that vision by encouraging, removing hurdles, and marshalling resources will always outperform those who remain reactive and only hope for the best.

Leading is about going somewhere. Where are you going? Are you moving forward—or are you standing still?  Take positive action today!

Leave a Reply