How to Deal with Entitled Employees – A Four Step Process


In the world of management, entitlement does not come up very often, but when it does it’s enough to make anyone want to quit being a manager. Simply having someone think the world revolves around them, or certain rules don’t apply to them can not only disrupt your working relationship with them, but the entire culture you built. But did you know that some workplaces actually encourage entitlement employees even when they say they condone it? 

So if you have dealt with someone who you feel is an entitled employee, or currently are, this video is to help you effectively navigate  this annoying situation by providing a 4 step process on how to deal with entitled employees and also how some workplaces encourage entitlement.

That way, you can have a piece of mind, but also turn that culture buster into a positive contributor. 

Let’s get started!

Step 1: Understanding Entitlement

So what really is entitlement? 

If you understand what entitlement is, the whole process of handling entitlement becomes astronomically easier.

Would you consider someone entitled if they 

just doesn’t want to work as hard as everyone else? 

Or someone who wants bean bags in the office? 

Or someone who wants an avocado sandwich whenever they get to work?

Most people say that entitlement is an individual who doesn’t think the rules apply to them. That definition is partially right, but it needs a bit more fleshing out.

Looking deeper into this, we will examine what Glenda M. Fisk, a professor at the School of Policy at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario Canada said in her paper in 2010.

Conveniently titled- “I want it all, and I want it now!”. 

According to her paper, there wasn’t a sufficient amount of research on the topic of entitlement in the workplace which prompted her interest in the field. Before we can get to definition, it’s important to understand the concept of equity sensitivity. This trait basically means how sensitive someone is to the fairness of one’s environment. In more of a technical sense, their comfort of their input to reward ratio. If they are high in equity sensitivity, they will experience distress which leads to efforts to restore equality. Someone who is low in equity sensitivity, they are not influenced by unfairness.

Here is a simple example: if two people are shoveling snow, Person A gets paid $10 for 10 hours of work and the other gets paid $5 for 10 hours of work. Given Person A and B work side by side and they can see one another, how do you think Person A, who is working more than Person B would react? Well, if they are low in equity sensitivity, they wouldn’t mind the difference, however, Person A is high in this trait and expects equal treatment. They would probably demand equal work or pay. If they are low, they wouldn’t care.

Now, how does this relate to Professor Fisk’s definition?

Under the rubric of equity sensitivity, an entitled individual is one who prefers a situation of over rewards (his or her outcome: input ratio is larger than that of a referent standard).

So Person B, would be an example of an entitled person if the standard in that environment is working for $10 for 10 hours and they are okay with working less than other employees. By the way, this tendency has been well documented with Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

The 4 step process in this video handles whether or not the person is a classic narcissist. One would argue that sociopaths would also count as entitled but that is a bit outside the scope of this video.

Another thing about entitlement is that we are all entitled to a degree. Think about it this way, imagine you were hired to work for a company that was in placed in a country you have never been to before and let;s say it’s for a coding job. You think that at the job you will write code in the office. Pretty basic. Well, imagine you got to their office and were surprised to find that you had to put all of your code on a floppy disk and only one person, that being your boss, had access to wifi? You were probably operating under the assumption that you would be given wifi. If you brought that up to other coworkers, they might think you are entitled because you had a different expectation. 

While you started off as being entitled to that new job, if you continued to feel it wasn’t fair, you would definitely be entitled.

Step 2: Spotting the Entitlement

Now that you know a bit more about entitlement, it becomes a whole lot easier to spot. 

Here are some common behavior patterns of entitled employees: 

  • Let’s go back to the previous $10/day work example and imagine a person with entitlement would be someone who after asking them to work as hard as everyone else would be surprised that you asked. 

You would often find that people are not entitled because they are aware of their lack of activity and feel shame because of their equity sensitivity.

According to Fisk’s paper, after you tell that individual to return to the standard in that workplace environment, if they react in any of the following ways, you might have an entitled person on your hands. 

  • Slowing production – once they were slow, now they are even slower
  • Property – sabotaging equipment, breaking equipment and saying they are not able to work because they are not able to utilize the equipment. 
  • Political Deviance – Gossiping blaming others. Continuing what they are doing, but then they go behind the boss’ back and try to create some political rift. Now, this one applies if the manager is asking the employee to return to the standard. If the boss asks for something ridiculous like you need to wear a dunce hat to work for now on, feel free to gossip. 
  • Personal Aggression- verbal or physical abuse. Lashing out at management. I had an employee one time who wasn’t meeting the requirements for a position for some months, and when I asked them to meet the mark, I was met with some verbal exchange, stating it wasn’t fair, and later a resignation. 

A more of a gray area one in Gisk’s paper is where she states “excessively entitled employees are less likely to go above and beyond”. This makes sense from an equity perspective for instance, all people who go up and beyond are not entitled, but we cannot say if they don’t go up and beyond they are entitled. While an interesting point, it does not work in absolutes that well. 

Now that we can spot entitlement and know better what it is, how would we be able to set up a working environment that helps create a fair, equitable and sustainable work environment. 

And that leads us to step there: 

Step 3: Establishing Entitlement Interrupting Patterns

Gisk in her paper also provided a cycle or rather framework that showcases how to interrupt entitled behavior, which also reveals how lots of companies enforce entitled behavior. Let’s take a look: 

The first thing we notice is the Excessive Entitlement block, this is someone who is a traditional entitlement employee. 

entitled employee

Right off the bat, Gisk points out that in the beginning of hiring, employees are positioned to feel entitled by the recruitment and socialization process. Essentially, entering into a ‘psychological contract’. While not in writing, this is a way that a manager helps a new hire understand how they should feel given their input or rather how hard they work. The boundaries where you can do well, and here is where you can get fired. Gisk refers to this period as the ‘Golden Hello’. Making someone feel special during the early stages of their employment can “contribute to elevate outcomes expectations.” Basically making some feel good before they have done anything. Companies often feel pressure to retain new employees therefore almost spoiling them, giving them a sense of an unrealistic expectations.

A way to combat this is making markers quantified. Managers can uphold these standards by setting ground rules for success for the current hire and others in the future. For instance, as in the case with an engineer how soon do you expect them to be contributing, how much and by when. For sales, how many calls do you expect? 

In more rigorous positions that are in call centers, and outsourcing companies, the 90 day onboarding process tends to be very strict, however, in my experience, I have noticed that sometimes, engineering companies where productivity is a lot harder to quantify, managers tend to become reluctant on setting black and white KPIs in fears of upsetting the employee or upper management. 

Another way that employers can reinforce entitled behavior is making salaries non-contingent. Basically, they don’t see a change in salary regardless of how much effort they put in. Therefore, let’s say someone earns $100 a day and they stop working hard, they are still being paid $100 shifting their input to output equity ratio, contributing to entitlement. 

Now, I am not advocating for all salaries to become commission only for people. It’s more pointing out that payment, that is not derived from performance, has the ability to make someone feel entitled when the ‘input’ or rather, productivity changes.

Once the employee goes through this first stage, the manager has a decision, could they enforce the standard, or let the behavior continue. If they don’t do anything, this cycle of entitlement becomes stronger overtime. On other hand, they have the ability to put down the barriers which leads to either the employee learning, going to regulation or retribution. 

There are two things that managers need to be aware of in this stage though, self control and the behavior interia. 

Most entitled people are forced to exercise greater self control. Note, ‘self control’ is tested which is very low with narcissists, so if you have a narcissistic employee, they will fall apart here and probably quit. That is not a bad thing, you just dodged a major bullet.

The behavioral momentum is the other item that managers should be aware of, basically means these habits are difficult to stop, so they should expect some push back.

They will either lead to retribution with retaliation or poor performance.

On the other hand, they will go through a series of steps to help regulate their previous behaviors.

Which leads us to set 4.

Step 4: Regulation

Let’s say you found out someone on your team is entitled you had a tough conversation with them and 1 month later, everything turns to the way it was before. What did you do wrong? 

Well, that is where step 4 comes into play, regulation. 

Remember, as Peter Drucker famously said “What gets measured gets managed” hence, we want to put down quantifiable markers to ensure that they are improving their previously entitled behavior. This can be done in simple ways like tracking their task performance or attendance. Regulation might be more difficult in jobs that are harder to measure so it’s up to the manager to find creative quantifiable ways to measure how the entitled employee is measuring up to their past behavior. 

This step will not be easy, but it’s the foundation to help a manager who has intentions to bring out the best in his direct report and team culture get the best if someone has had an entitled past.

If you work more office oriented, I would consider setting up a dashboard where you can check your employee’s performance. Personally, I have done this by adding a few extra APIs calls and putting out the results in our instant messenger Slack so not only I can see, but the rest of the team can as well.

On the other hand, if you work is not office oriented, I would suggest adding reminders to your daily schedule to follow up on those behaviors to ensure they are changing. 

As Tasha Eurich PhD and New York Times best selling author put it best,  

“Leaders receive the behavior they reward and tolerate. Always.”

In other words, you as a leader have to change as well because you have tolerated those behaviors in the past. If that is the case, the good news is that, an entitled employee is now making you a better manager and leader


So there you have it, the 4 step process to dealing with entitled employees. 

  1. Understanding Entitlement
  2. Spotting Entitlement
  3. Establishing Entitlement Interrupting Patterns
  4. Regulation

Or you can use the U.S.E.R acronym. Seriously, I didn’t recognize that until I wrote it down.

This is a framework that I have personally used and is also backed by research. I hope that it helps you receive less workplace headaches, because at the end of the day, most of us need to provide for our families.

Till next time.


Jeff Butler

Jeff Butler Internationally respected speaker and consultant, Jeff Butler helps bridge generational gaps between Millennials and companies looking for their talent and patronage. Butler has quickly built his reputation as a memorable presenter with tangible solutions for attracting, retaining, and engaging Millennials as employees and customers. Within just the past three years, he has spoken at two TEDx events and multiple Fortune 500 companies such as Google, Amazon, and LinkedIn.


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