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  • Writer's pictureLata Hamilton

Are staff too entitled?

Updated: Apr 28, 2023

We’ve bred a workforce of entitlement. And I’m not talking about Gen Y. I’m talking about all the generations in the workforce. As Michael Fraccaro from MasterCard highlighted in his keynote at the HR Leaders Forum I attended in February, there’s now 4 generations working side-by-side. But to me they all have one thing in common - a sense of entitlement. Now you probably think I don’t much like staff, and I have no empathy for people whatsoever. You couldn’t be further from the truth. I care deeply about people - I’m a Change Manager, NLP Practitioner and Career Change Coach after all!

Contracts and guarantees

I believe we’ve found ourselves in a situation where staff view their employment contract as an employment guarantee. And nothing shows this more than the fear, stress and anxiety felt when a restructure is announced.

I’m not sure about you, but every permanent or fixed term employment contract I’ve ever signed when starting a new role has had a clause related to redundancy: if the company no longer requires my services as a employee, then my employment is terminated with a payment to help me look for a new role. It is a business agreement - loyalty and performance considerations are not part of that redundancy clause, and length of tenure only points to your payment amount.

Why then do people automatically feel the expectation that their company "should" find them another role internally?

The slippery slope of automation

The Committee for Economic Development in Australia estimates almost 40% of Australian jobs will be lost to automation in the next 10 years. That’s 5 million roles. So my question to all you business leaders out there is: are you going to find 5 million new jobs internally? That’s impossible, right?

Now you might say not all jobs will be lost, many will simply “change”. I agree... and we all know how much people LOVE change. Change makes most people’s skin crawl, and the natural aversion humans have to it is why I get work as a Change Manager!

Regardless if roles will be lost or changed, it seems smarter to tackle the problem at its root cause. Adjust people’s expectations, not your business’s needs to stay afloat.

Where did the sense of entitlement come from? Why do many people think companies “owe” them a job?

During coffee with an old client a few weeks ago, I began to brainstorm why this had happened, and whether it’s uniquely Australian.

In Australia we have a lot of cultural references that help breed this sense of entitlement.

  • That everyone should be given a “fair go”

  • “She’ll be right, mate” - which may be used to gloss over concerns and risks

  • The infamous tall poppy syndrome that encourages high achievers to come back to being average (like everyone else)

I’m also partial to “better than a poke in the eye with a burnt stick”, but that’s one for another time and doesn’t help me prove my point. It’s just classic dad-joke. Really classic dad-joke.

The performance management problem

I do believe in fairness, equality and worker protection - where legitimate and truly due. I worry that in some cases we’ve erred too far in favour of the employee. One of the reasons there’s so many fixed term contracts offered now is because it’s so hard to actually let someone go because of poor performance - you run the risk of complaints of bullying, harassment, and unfair dismissal.

Couple this with managers who may have great technical skills but underdeveloped people skills. And as Karen Lonergan (formerly of David Jones) rightly pointed out during a panel at the HR Leaders Forum, many managers have a general avoidance to have difficult conversations.

So these elements combine and we end up with this entitled workforce. Performance management is a tough process for the leader. No - “She will NOT be right, mate” when the rest of your team is picking up your slack, when the company profits are plummeting, or, as we’ve seen with the Financial Services Royal Commission, shady practices are going on.

Of course, it’s not all employees. But it’s some. Company structures become bloated and unmanageable, resulting in the need to reduce the bottom line through restructures and redundancies - and lose a lot of good talent in the process because EVERYONE is impacted by that stressful change. And not only that, so that we don’t hurt the feelings of our entitled workforce, we don’t even call it a “restructure”.

To have a leader who is courageous enough to call a spade a spade and respected enough that their people will accept the truth is a leader worth their salt.

The dark side of entitlement

Like I said, I care deeply about people. The problem with this sense of entitlement is: it is horrifically disempowering.

I’ve seen it:

  • People stressed from sleepless nights wondering if they’ll have a job in 2 weeks… or at the end of the day.

  • Colleagues convinced they won’t be able to find another job “with flexibility”.

  • Other colleagues in tears because they just want a permanent role to stop the merry-go-round of fixed term contracts, which leave them feeling insecure.

I often describe the behaviour of most people when a restructure is announced as similar to holding out a beggar bowl, hoping a job will be doled out. Where’s the power in that?

Cause vs Effect

Handing your power over to your employer to guarantee your livelihood and future is incredibly risky. In coaching we call it “Cause vs Effect”. When you’re living in Effect you have lots of reasons why things don’t go your way. When you’re living at Cause - you take responsibility for your results.

  • Those who live in the Cause side of the equation will never be worried about finding a job.

  • Those in Effect - will always be worried that they’ll lose their job.

My vision for our future workforce

I think the shift to automation on such a vast scale presents us with an opportunity to reset both the expectations and the empowerment of our people.

I see a chance for staff to have shorter contracts but be paid more for them, and to take it upon themselves to upskill and reskill to stay relevant in an ever-changing market.

I see staff who believe in themselves and in doing a good job, who are brave in the face of change and embrace it with excitement.

An Australian population savvy enough with their finances to easily take a few months to find another role after redundancy.

And most of all - staff who have the confidence to find or even create their OWN role in the tidal shifts to automation.

Because we know it’s impossible for business leaders to conjure up 5 million new jobs. Let’s give our managers a helping hand to secure our own future.

I'm Lata Hamilton - the Founder & CEO of Passion Pioneers, a Change Management consultancy specialising in digital transformation, operating model changes, and new ways of working and leadership.

Grab my free Creative Launch Ideas Guide with 53 ways to bring your next Change and Transformation to life - download it here.

And if you'd like my help with your next change or building leadership capability for your team, get in touch with me here.


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