The Entitled Generation: How Societal Shifts Have Changed Perspectives on Work

While these shifts aim to protect self-esteem, they result in unrealistic expectations around effort and struggle required to succeed.

In recent years, older generations have leveled criticism at Millennials and Generation Z for having an undeserved sense of entitlement and poor work ethic. While participation trophies may play a role, the problem stems from several broader societal shifts. These changes have engendered unrealistic expectations that now hinder workplace culture.

Key Factors That Cultivated Entitlement

Participation trophies are one factor that may have contributed to entitlement attitudes. However, many other changes have also had an impact:

  • Self-Esteem Movement: Much of parenting and education in recent decades has focused heavily on boosting self-esteem. But unwarranted praise and accommodation can foster narcissism. Children develop inflated views of their own abilities.
  • Social Media: Platforms like Instagram and YouTube give the perception that fame and fortune can be obtained easily and instantly. Many young people now seek this kind of instant gratification.
  • Grade Inflation: Awarding students artificially high GPAs for mediocre work gives them an inflated sense of their skills. This makes it harder to cope with honest feedback about poor performance later on.
  • Consumer Culture: Younger generations were raised as “customers” who expect to get what they pay for. This consumer mentality leads to feeling entitled to rewards without wanting to work for it. 
  • Lax Parenting: Some parents fail to set proper boundaries and learning moments for children, instead overly accommodating their demands. This prevents kids from developing resilience when faced with hardship.

While these shifts aim to protect self-esteem, they result in unrealistic expectations around effort and struggle required to succeed. Younger workers grew up receiving praise, high grades, fame, and consumer goods without having to work for them – breeding entitlement.

The Risks of Entitlement in the Workforce

This ingrained sense of entitlement is now exerting heavy costs in the workplace, including:

  • Decreased Production: Entitled employees often have poor work ethics and lack motivation if tasks require struggle. This results in less effort and reduced output.
  • Higher Turnover: Younger workers quickly become dissatisfied if they feel they are not advancing fast enough or being recognized sufficiently. This leads to frequent job changes.
  • Poor Service: Customer service roles demand patience and resilience. But entitlement manifests as laziness, impatience, and indifference – degrading customer experiences.
  • Unrealistic Expectations: Entitled employees believe they deserve promotions and rewards immediately, without having to prove themselves or “pay their dues” first. 
  • Lack of Loyalty: Younger generations tend to have less workplace loyalty. They are always on the lookout for a better opportunity for more money or recognition.
  • Difficulty Receiving Feedback: Constructive criticism can be beneficial for growth and improvement. But entitled workers take critique as a personal attack and are unable to hear it.

Left unchecked, these issues create significant friction between younger and older worker generations. They also jeopardize service quality, output, and long-term growth.

Solutions for Restoring Strong Work Ethics  

While the risks are real, there are solutions organizations and individuals can employ to address entitlement attitudes:

  • Lead by Example: Managers should model strong work ethic, humility, and perseverance. Praise should be reserved for achievements based on effort.
  • Set Clear Guidelines: Provide explicit expectations around duties, codes of conduct, and consequences for poor performance/behavior. Enforce these consistently.  
  • Offer Mentorship: Partner new employees with veteran staff who can share experience and advice. Mentors should provide guidance but also constructive feedback when warranted.
  • Focus on Teamwork: Foster collaboration and accountability to others. Make clear that success comes through group effort, not just shining alone. 
  • Reward Hard Work: Link promotions and bonuses to measurable contributions, not just tenure. Show that advancing requires proven hard work and dedication over time.
  • Encourage Reflection: If poor attitudes emerge, have open conversations focused on growth. Ask self-reflective questions about why excellence matters and how to achieve it.

With deliberate effort, the youngest generations can recognize that sustainable success and fulfillment come not through entitlement, but earning your place through diligence, patience, and resilience. Instilling strong work ethics is paramount for organizational and personal success alike.

August 6, 2023

Marcus Dickinson

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