I wrote recently about an interesting study looking at the propensity for entitled people to break the rules. The research suggests that when people feel entitled, they’re much more likely to behave badly. Such employees are driven by self-interest, and especially the desire to present the right impression to others.
Indeed, so pronounced is the impact that the authors urge organizations to start measuring how entitled employees feel, not only when employed but also during the recruitment process.
It’s a finding shared by a second paper from researchers at Cornell University and Harvard Medical School. It found that people with a sense of entitlement are less likely to abide by instructions. This is in large part because they regard the instructions as an imposition on them.
Bending the rules
“The fact that there are a lot of complaints these days about having to deal with entitled students and entitled employees,” the authors say, “suggests the need for a solution.”
The researchers conducted a number of studies to test their hypothesis. For instance, in one, participants were asked to follow a number of instructions when completing a word search. It emerged that those who scored highly on measures of entitlement were much less likely to follow the instructions.
The team then set out to explore why this was. Was it selfishness? A desire for control? It transpired that none of those things seemed to matter. Regardless of how participants were primed, those with a sense of entitlement would still ignore the instructions. It was an outcome that surprised the researchers.
“We thought that everyone would follow instructions when we told people that they would definitely get punished for not doing so, but entitled individuals still were less likely to follow instructions than less entitled individuals,” they say.
Fairness is key
It wasn’t until the final round of experiments that they stumbled upon the reason for this phenomenon. It transpired that fairness was key, as entitled people were more likely to regard instructions as unfair, and therefore would rather take a personal loss than do something they felt was unfair.
“A challenge for managers, professors, and anyone else who needs to get people with a sense of entitlement to follow instructions is to think about how to frame the instructions to make them seem fairer or more legitimate,” the researchers say.
The authors believe that organizations generally run more smoothly when people are inclined to follow instructions, so perhaps appealing more to the fairness of the entitled among us would help us achieve that.