Millennials are entitled. I'm convinced.
I'm not convinced, however, that this is a bad thing.
Some forms, of course, are. Narcissistic and exploitive entitlement, such as "If I'm in a hurry, people should let me move ahead in line," are associated with manipulativeness, irresponsibility, grandiosity, neuroticism and anxiety. Such traits nearly always damage both the individual and the organization.
But entitlement isn't inherently negative, despite its prevailing connotation. It means simply, "what an individual believes he or she deserves." This conviction can seed social progress.
For example, women's suffrage started because enough women began to see themselves as entitled to vote. Hard work, persistence and persuasion followed this core belief.
Conversely, low feelings of entitlement among women contribute to gender inequality in the workplace. In 1985, researchers asked men and women to pay themselves for a fixed amount of work. Women, who generally scored lower on personal entitlement, paid themselves less than men paid themselves--even though they tended to work longer and perform better. Today, psychologists see lower entitlement as one reason women still earn and get promoted less than men, tolerate unfair pay and discrimination, and feel that they "don't have a right to leisure."
Here's another example: The number of consumer items Americans say we can't live without has proliferated in the last 50 years alone. In 1973, roughly 15% of Americans viewed car air conditioning as a necessity. Now almost 60% do. In 1983, 5% of America needed a home computer. Now more than half couldn't live without one--and that doesn't count laptops.
"Basic needs" used to mean safety and shelter. Now they include refrigerators (99% of all Americans have one), TVs (98.7%), microwaves (87.9%) and air conditioning (84%). These household conveniences aren't rights in a traditional sense. But if 35.4% of Americans are on welfare, they've certainly become entitlements.
What's the result of Americans thinking they deserve more than they used to? One of the highest qualities of life in the world.
These examples depict how our standards influence our lives in the long-run. As expectations get higher, reality gets better. Entitlement pushes us forward.
Now let's take the workplace. In the last century, we restricted hours in the average workweek, which was once unlimited with no overtime pay. We also instituted fair labor laws that protected our children and punished harassment. Our basic needs have been met, as Maslow would say, and now millennials want more: self-actualization, purpose, enjoyment and benefits.
You could say it's preposterous to expect these things, but we habituate. Millennials are criticized for being out of touch, but we're actually so accustomed to the present reality that we're ready to outdo it.
As our expectations evolve, so will work--and probably for the better. Millennials aren't demanding outlandish bonuses or unlimited time off. Instead, we feel entitled to work that matters, training that helps us get better and flexibility to accommodate the demands of modern life. If we persist, our entitlement will instigate kinder, more mission-driven companies and better balance.
Social progress (and tension) stems from individuals thinking they deserve what society and organizations think they don't.
Some kinds of millennial entitlement are indeed troubling. But the type afflicting the majority may call the workplace to something higher.
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