“What takes up a significant amount of your time and prevents you from spending more time with your staff and students?”
I ask school leaders this question to learn more about the barriers that school leaders are facing as well as the processes they use. In a recent email exchange with one school leader I received this response:
I have the time and resources to meet with students and staff, my biggest problem, is that my staff seems to feel “entitled” and that their “plan time” is their personal time that I can’t touch. They seem to be of the mindset that I am the one to fix everything and they “just work her.” I have tried lots of things, but I can’t change their attitude.
I could feel the frustration of this school leader as I read her email. I wanted to offer a quick solution, but I had none. Our company provides software and consulting resources to help school districts with hiring, evaluations, job descriptions, identifying factors associated with teacher turnover, and identifying training and professional development needs. I didn’t have a resource to assist this school leader with teachers who feel entitled. So, I turned to research in the field of organizational behavior to explore what causes feelings of employee entitlement and what school leaders can do to manage feelings of teacher entitlement. Below we explore how some school districts actually create feelings of entitlement due to their practices and policy. We also look at personal characteristics in teachers that are more likely to result in teachers who feel entitled. Finally, we provide a resource that discusses what school districts can do to reduce feelings of entitlement in teachers.
Before going any further in the discussion about teachers who feel entitled, it must be stressed this article is not attempting to generalize across all teachers. Some of the most selfless and self-sacrificing people I know are teachers I worked with. Additionally, feelings of entitlement are not inherently bad. People, regardless of race, gender, or religion should feel entitled to basic rights. Women should feel entitled to receive the same pay as men. The feelings of entitlement alluded to in the email above deal with feelings excessive entitlement (Yes that really is a term used in organizational psychology), not teachers who simply want to be respected as a professional and as a person and for the work they do.
Entitlement is a feeling of equity. Feelings of equity exist across a continuum. The average person falls somewhere near the center of the continuum and can be categorized as equity sensitive. These are people who conform to the traditional norms of equity. Those who have a greater tolerance for being under rewarded and who give expecting little in return are labeled as benevolents (Many teachers fall in this category). Meanwhile, entitleds, or those who exhibit feelings and behaviors of excessive entitlement, are those who feel their work related outcomes should be greater than their input, accepting whatever they get as their due and are often unwilling to contribute beyond the minimal level (Roehling, 2009). I believe this is the type of person the school leader was talking about in her email.
Are School Districts Creating Teachers Who Feel Entitled?
It’s easy to say teachers who feel entitled are that way by nature and school districts had no role in nurturing perceptions and ideas that lead to feelings of entitlement. Research says otherwise. In fact, in many cases employers begin to plant feelings of entitlement before an employee is ever hired.
Unrealistic Job Previews Can Create Feelings of Entitlement in Teachers
When competing for talented employees, schools often feel pressured to present applicants with an overly optimistic view of the work setting and benefits associated with job. “Selling” an applicant on working for the school district or a particular facility and discussing the rewards of accepting a position before the applicant is hired is believed to create early feelings of entitlement. When this happens early in the employment relationship the employer communicates they value employees for who they are, not what they do. When school leaders present an overly positive image of the district in efforts to convince applying teachers to join, it can bolster an applicant’s feelings of superiority, uniqueness, and perceived deservingness (Fisk, 2010). This does not suggest school leadership shouldn’t highlight the good things happening at their schools; rather they should make it clear that a lot of work and sacrifice went into creating the environment that exists now and they are looking for people who are willing to share in the worthwhile struggle and help them continue that work.
Lenient Job Ratings Can Create Feelings of Entitlement in Teachers
If school districts plant the seeds of entitlement in the hiring process, they nurture their growth in the evaluation or performance management process. Research has found overly lenient performance feedback contributes to feelings of entitlement (Fisk, 2010). As one would expect, when employees receive high ratings over a long period of time and areas of improvement are not addressed, employees begin to expect, or feel entitled to higher ratings.
I had the opportunity to discuss ratings of teacher performance with a professor who works in the education department at a large division one school in the mid-west. He mentioned his involvement with a department head meeting where they were comparing average GPAs across the various fields of study the university offered. The departments of engineering, biology, animal science, mathematics, and many more were there along with the representatives of the teacher education department. As student achievement was compared across the various fields of study, the GPAs of students in the teacher education department were among the highest in any department. He was quick to point out that he has some very bright young teachers in the department, but he was skeptical of the GPAs that suggested overly lenient grading policies in the education department. It seems reasonable then, depending on the person and the college they attended; some teachers may be preconditioned to receive lenient ratings and continue to receive (and expect) overly favorable marks once they are hired. One explanation for the tendency to receive lenient ratings is the unwillingness of some to have difficult conversations with teachers.
Excessive Entitlement Among Teachers Can Create Undesired Work Behaviors
Lenient performance ratings may also point to permissive management practices, which can lead to feelings of excessive entitlement and Counterproductive Work Behaviors (CWBs). CWBs are employee behavior that goes against the legitimate interests of an organization. Some examples of CWBs include excessive absenteeism, loafing, workplace bullying, incivility, withdrawal, and in extreme cases, personal aggression, theft and sabotage. When employees work in an overly permissive environment and develop feelings of excessive entitlement they could possibly react to perceived deprivations with CWBs in efforts to settle debts they feel are “owed” to them (Fisk, 2010).
Salary and Benefits Relationship with Feelings of Teacher Entitlement
Salary and other forms of compensation and benefits can affect feelings of entitlement in teachers as well. Traditional “step and ladder” salary schedules or fixed pay plans have been found to communicate an organizations obligation to provide rewards, regardless of individual employee behaviors. Lawler (1971) cautioned non-contingent rewards have poor motivating potential. When non-contingent (fixed) rewards are coupled with lenient performance ratings employees may expect to be rewarded regardless of effort. It is not surprising then when some teachers develop feelings of excessive entitlement.
Job Descriptions, Contracts and their Effects on Feelings of Entitlement
Job descriptions and work contracts have also been found to create perceptions of entitlement among employees. Teaching is one of the few modern professions that use explicit contracts to define the employee and employer relationship. When employees believe work contracts and job descriptions specifically and narrowly define everything that is expected of them they may feel they are entitled to perform only those tasks. Contracts can be helpful in ensuring employers do not attempt to walk all over their employees; however, they cannot be expected to define and predict every possible task an employer may need an employee to perform. Evens so, many employees believe their work contracts and job descriptions define every aspect of what is expected of them.
The Nature of the Education Industry and Its Impact on Feelings of Entitlement among Teachers
Finally, the very nature of education has likely had an impact on creating a culture of teachers who may feel entitled. Up until the last decade the education industry has been fairly stable. In stable employment settings, education or any other, employees grow accustomed to the status-quo and adopt feelings they are entitled to remain there. It is almost the nature of people to expect if things have existed and operated in a particular way over a long period of time, they should remain to operate the same way. Educational reform efforts and unstable economic conditions have begun to create a more dynamic work environment and threaten feelings of remaining in the status quo. Additionally, there is an elephant in the room that has not been mentioned, unions. Education unions are often blamed for all the shortcomings in education. Many legislators and school leaders contend if teacher unions were removed they could bring about the needed change to improve schools. In some cases teacher unions do act as obstructionists and cultivate feelings of entitlement among teachers. School leaders dance a difficult dance between trying to meet the needs of students and maintaining a working relationship between teacher unions. Just as school leaders cannot allow teachers to pass off the trouble of educating difficult students to apathetic parents, school district leaders cannot abdicate their role to do what they can to create the most productive possible learning environment for students, even in difficult union environments.
Personal Factors Contributing to Teacher Entitlement
Outside of factors school districts can influence, there are many personal factors that contribute to feelings and behaviors associated with excessive entitlement that are beyond the control of school leaders.
Most empirical research on excessive entitlement comes from research on narcissism. Assessments designed to measure people and behavior patterns of excessive entitlement found people who were more likely to be selfish, self-serving, deserving of more salary and resources, and exhibited less respect and empathy for their peers (Campbell, 2004).
Does Education = Teachers Who Feel Entitled?
Another personal factor contributing to feelings of entitlement is an individual’s level of education. Research has found as people become more educated they have less benevolent equity orientation in employment relationships. This suggests they are more likely to have feelings of entitlement in their work place (Roehling, 2009). Researches could not clearly identify what caused individuals who are more educated to feel more entitled. They reasoned it could be because more educated people have higher levels of moral reasoning, or they may just be more demanding in their employer/employee relationship due to a perception of a higher status. Clearly school districts want educated staff members providing instruction to students, so that is a tradeoff districts are willing to make, but at what cost and what level of education is truly necessary for effective instruction? Many districts incentivize (and in some cases subsidize) teachers to increase their education beyond bachelor’s degrees, even though research has repeatedly found advanced degrees in educations are not associated with increased student performance (Arroyo, 2012).
Does Age = Teachers Who Feel Entitled?
During a recent discussion with a principal I discussed some of the findings on employee entitlement and possible implications for teachers. He remarked, “It seems like my older teachers feel more entitled than younger teachers.”
While that may be true in his building, I told him the research on entitlement has actually found otherwise. Research on entitlement and older workers has found as employees increase in age, they show increases in personality factors of conscientiousness and agreeableness, suggesting they are less likely to have feelings of entitlement (Roehing, 2009). I asked him, “Would you say your older teachers have been in their current positions longer than the teachers you are comparing them to?”
He replied, “I guess so. Why?”
We discussed how entitlement research has found as people remain in their positions longer and their jobs remain static, they are more likely to feel entitled. Older employees are not inherently more likely to feel entitled. Employees who remain the same position for an extended period of time with little to no changes in their work environment, however, are far more likely to have feelings of entitlement, especially when it comes to change (Roehing, 2009).
Entitlements’ Effect on Change
Feeling of entitlement and the pain associated with change provides strong roots for resistance to change. People are more likely to resist change when they perceive it as unfair. They are also more likely to withdraw feelings of enthusiasm and commitment from employment relationships they feel have become unfair (Heath, 1993). As people remain in their current positions, and those positions are relatively static in nature, employees are more likely to see themselves as more secure and feel entitled to remain in the status-quo. Static work environments cause employees to overestimate the amount of consistency expected in the work relationship and feel an implied work contract has been violated during periods of change.
Suggestions for Managing Feelings of Entitlement among Teachers
Due to the current length of this article (it’s currently over 2500 words) we are making this section available through request. Suggestions or strategies for managing teachers who are have feelings of excessive entitlement can be received by requesting the article using the button below. There is no obligation or catch to receive the article. We will send the second half of this article right to your inbox and provide you with a copy of our free monthly newsletter. If you are already a subscriber, you received the full text article in your email inbox. For all others, click on the button below to get suggestions for managing feelings of entitlement among teachers.
Concluding Thoughts on Teachers Who Feel Entitled
A few things are clear. Excessive entitlement can be managed or influenced by school districts. When teachers feel excessively entitled they are more likely to engage in behaviors that are counterproductive to the district’s overall goals. As a consequence, feelings of entitlement among teachers cannot simply be ignored.
School districts are rapidly shifting from stable work environments to dynamic and fluid work places that must adjust to the needs of the economy as well as the ebb of political education policy. School leaders find themselves walking the fine line between keeping their staff engaged, but not entitled. As I wrap up this article I know I have not captured all the facets that can affect feelings of entitlement in teachers. I have tried to tread delicately to ensure I have not presented a perception that all teachers feel entitled and need to be changed. This article is meant to provide additional considerations for those select few educators who feel excessively entitled. While I’ve covered the research literature on entitlement and provided a few examples of how it affects school districts, I’m interested to hear how you would address the issue of entitlement shared by the school leader at the beginning of this article. What are the proactive ways you deal with entitlement? Based on your experience, what advice would you give to school leaders who deal with excessive entitlement?
Campbell, W.F., Bonacci, A. M., Shelton, J., ExlineJ. J., Bushman, B. J. (2004). Psychological entitlement: Interpersonal consequences and validation of a self-report measure, Journal of Personality Assessment, 1, 29-45.
Fisk, G.M. (2010). “I want it now!” An examination of the etiology, expression, and escalation of excessive employee entitlement. Human Resource Review, 20, 102-114.
Heath, C., Knez, M., Camerer, C. (1993). The strategic management of the entitlement process in the employment relationship, Strategic Management Journal, 14, 75-93.
Roehling, M. V., Roehling, P. V., Boswell, W. R. (2010). The potential of organizational setting in creating “entitled” employees: An investigation of the antecedents of equity sensitivity, Employee Responsibility and Rights, 22, 133-145.