The myth of entitlement

Throughout the entirety of my career, I’ve repeatedly come face to face with two of the most common myths within the workplace;

  1. Organisations somehow owe something to employees
  2. Employees somehow owe something to organisations

As if there is some unwritten obligation to be fulfilled.

There isn’t. This is the myth of entitlement.

Organisations are collaborations that exist to serve others. There is not a single one, private, public or third sector that exists to serve the needs of its employees. Not one.

And likewise there is not a single employee that exists to serve the needs of its employer.

This misapprehension is reflected in our professional practice and driven by our inability to understand the basic economic transaction that exists within the workplace.

Organisational purpose is delivered by labour and labour is rewarded for that delivery.

But before I’m accused of taking some neanderthal backward step to the dark ages of lords and masters, let’s also be clear about a few other things.

  • Employees have choices. Most organisations have doors and people are free to come and go as they choose.
  • Employers have choices. Employment is not guaranteed and organisations are free to hire and fire as they choose.

The relationship that brings employee and employer together is one to organise labour to deliver collectively for a defined purpose. And that purpose is the economic driver and the one and only reason that both exist.

Far from being backward, realisation and acceptance of this is the key to understanding and building an adult relationship within the workplace. It is central to building a healthy and sustainable organisational culture that understands the balance and trade offs that exists.

Yes so often it is missing and instead replaced with an over inflated expectation of our worth and our value, both as an employer and employee.

Strong healthy employment relationships are psychologically the same as any other relationship. They require balance. And they require an acceptance that if that balance is broken, if the needs are not being fulfilled, either party has the freedom to act.

Refocussing HR…..on employees

I’m constantly reminded about the need for HR to “refocus”. I get it. I hear it at conferences, in journals, on social media. We need to refocus. That’s great. Normally the schtick is based one of two things,

We need to be externally focussed.

We need to be commercially focussed.

Both are true and yet both are incomplete assessments of the state of HR.  The missing piece for me, the area that we should not speak, the real truth is,

We need to be more employee focussed.

If you speak to anyone in a consumer facing marketing function, they will wax lyrical about the need to focus on that consumer, to understand their behaviour, to open the channels of communication with them, to have a dialogue and to serve (yes, I said serve) them better.

But when we come to the world of people management, it appears we feel that employees are somewhat of an inconvenience that get in the way of good HR practice. If only it wasn’t for these pesky folk, we’d be doing great things.

Yes we need to be commercially minded and we need to understand the context in which our organisations operate. Yes we need to be confident with the financial aspects of our business and the economic conditions. But we also need to remember that our primary purpose as a function is to understand our employees’ needs better than anyone else. And to serve those needs.

I have a simple test, a simple analytic that I’ve built up over a few years when assessing what we’re doing and whether it is worthwhile. Ask yourself three questions,

Does it make life better for employees?

Does it make things simpler for managers?

Does it add tangible value to the business?

And if you can’t say yes to one of these three questions, then you should simply stop doing it. 

Here is my challenge to you, give it a go, ask yourself those questions. You’ll be surprised what you find.