Depending on your work history, you may have worked alongside an entitled employee. These colleagues can exhibit selfish behavior when they believe they’ve been treated unfairly.
While most of us would prefer to steer clear of these individuals, Emily Zitek, assistant professor of organizational behavior at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, actively seeks them out.
People who are entitled feel they’re more deserving than others, Zitek says. “[The behavior] manifests as complaining a lot, requesting a bigger raise or more resources than others without additional effort, blaming external factors, and thinking others treat them poorly,” she explains.
Fast Company spoke with Zitek to learn how companies can better manage entitled employees.
Most consequences of entitlement are negative for both the manager, as well as the entitled employee himself, Zitek notes. For example, the manager has to supervise a difficult person while trying to minimize conflict with other employees who are stressed out by that person’s behavior. Meanwhile, the entitled person experiences negative feelings associated with believing he’s being treated unfairly.
However, Zitek and Lynne Vincent, a research scholar at Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management, recently published a study finding a surprising benefit to entitlement: creativity. The study, appearing in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, suggests encouraging feelings of entitlement can lead to creativity.
While this silver lining approach doesn’t diminish the difficulty of working with a difficult employee, it does offer some insight into harnessing that energy and redirecting it into productive behavior. Here are Zitek’s three tips for dealing with an entitled employee:
One way to reduce entitlement is to make the entitled person feel similarly situated to the other employees. Research shows making entitled people feel equal can make them feel less entitled, because feeling different from–or better–than others is a key component to entitlement, Zitek says.
Another option is to assign roles or tasks to entitled employees that play to their strengths. Entitled people are ideally suited for brainstorming tasks, such as coming up with a new product idea or marketing plan, because they think differently and creatively, usually aren’t afraid to suggest ideas that are outside the norm, and want to be seen as different from their peers, Zitek notes.
They also may be good at negotiation because they’d have the opportunity to make demands and show how they’re different from other employees, she says.
Have entitled employees? Turns out, it may be your fault. Zitek is working on another study about which management practices lead to entitlement. Some potential indicators of problems are managers who are too lenient, and making exceptions for one employee versus having consistent rules for everyone.