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The Ethics Coach on Dealing With Entitled Employees

This story appears in the July 2014 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »
Do you have an ethical dilemma? Write to The Ethics Coach at ethics@entrepreneur.com.

Q: I want to do right by investors and keep operating costs low, but one employee who travels for his job advocates for high-end hotels, restaurants and transportation as compensation for being away from his family. He argues that a better travel experience makes for healthier, happier employees, which leads to more sales and benefits investors. We need a written travel policy, but shouldn't he understand the culture we're trying to build and behave accordingly?

A: A sense of entitlement is blind to culture. People who are preoccupied with their own self-interest find ways to rationalize that they should get everything they want. (Those of us who don't lean as selfish understand that want and deserve don't always overlap.)

To offset an employee's "make me happy, and everyone is better off" approach, leaders need to be vigilant and proactive. When that defense is put in play, beef up your talk of team culture and emphasize the "we" approach to fostering a sustainable business, containing costs and creating value for prospective clients. Move ahead--now--on writing up the company travel policy and the consequences for ignoring it. (Make sure you explain any new policy to your team; don't just send an e-mail out and go about your day.)

As irritating as me-first-and-only guys are, don't throw up your hands. Talk to the employee about your company's culture and values, and why his approach won't work.

Consider assigning the employee to a project that requires collaboration to help him merge his self-interest with your team approach--and to ratchet that sense of entitlement down a few notches.

Q: My partners and I have built a successful business and a strong camaraderie. Our only female employees are support staffers, but as we plan for growth, we've talked about hiring women executives. However, we worry it would change how we talk and interact with each other. As our industry has disproportionately more qualified men, we can make good hiring decisions without discriminating, which makes this a moot issue for now--right?

A: It isn't moot. Maintaining a boys' club isn't a good foundation for a healthy 21st-century business environment. You can't build trust, loyalty or a cohesive team if female employees are left out of the conversation or if you choose to skip out on helping them grow with the business. Keep in mind that fear of change lasts only if the focus is on what you think you may lose, rather than what you--and your clients--stand to gain when you're open to diversifying your company's people and ideas.

"Even if the legal implications don't impact you yet, this lack of diversity can significantly hurt your organization," says Elaine Varelas, managing partner of Keystone Partners, a career-management firm in Boston. Keep your hiring blinders on, she adds, "and you will continue to hire for skills you most likely already have."

Gael O'Brien

Written By

Gael O'Brien is publisher of The Week In Ethics and founder of coaching/consulting firm Strategic Opportunities Group. Do you have an ethical dilemma? Write to The Ethics Coach at ethics@entrepreneur.com.