The “I Deserve It” Syndrome | HR Memories

Courtesy of clip-art

Courtesy of clip-art

Throughout my career I have observed something that happens to some people when they come into power. I call it the “I Deserve It” syndrome. I have seen it at many companies and by people of all ages.

Here is the way it works. A smart, eager person starts a job. They do well and assume more responsibility, sometimes taking on more than is reasonable. They are liked, no loved! Respected! They work hard and do well but it comes at a cost. They spend a lot of time working. Since they are working hard and putting in extra hours, they start taking liberties. Those liberties may be longer lunches or later starting times. After all, they deserve it because they work so hard.

No one is going to challenge them because they already work 70 or 80 hours a week. If they want to come in at 9 instead of 8, so what.

Here is the “what.” It starts like that at first. Then it becomes a sense of entitlement. If it’s a guy, there may be golfing afternoons. Women prefer to work from home but you can’t contact them. The work crunch slows down but the worker continues to brag about hours worked and takes the liberties.

I worked with a guy who came in at 9:30 (exercise gym before work); took a 2 hour lunch with friends (11 to 1), then a dinner break from 4 to 6 and left at 8 p.m. He complained about his long hours. His wife complained about his long hours. You can do the math here. There was no long work day.

I worked with another guy who complained about the CEO ad nauseam only to become more like him as he moved up the organization — specialized treatment for employees, getting lost for an afternoon without taking vacation time, high-end dinners on the company, etc.

Sometimes the liberties aren’t time. They are an outspoken mouth — talking down to subordinates or peers when ideas are suggested. Eventually no one suggests anything and ironically the worker is more convinced than ever that they are the only ones who are driving success.

Someone who started as an eager worker with great ideas has now become a liability for the company. You can be sure that executives and managers live in a glass house. If you think that other workers do not notice the absences or the surly attitude you are greatly mistaken. Why do they need to be professional and follow the rules but their bosses don’t? They can also see through the “long hours” exaggerations. They process the expense accounts and payroll. They know who is logging what. Employees are not dumb.

I had employees resign and go elsewhere because they worked for such a manager. However, the manager wouldn’t believe me when I suggested it. Employees treated that way will not be honest, at least to the boss. They will tell me and every one of their friends but will not admit it in an exit interview.

They will give other reasons, relocation or a better opportunity. No burning bridges! Sometimes that reason is right but there was something that got them to start looking. Most people leave managers, not jobs*.

Even with the current economy, this still happens, especially when that “deserving” manager has specialized skills that are needed. My examples above no longer exist. In some cases they moved on or their wife wanted a different life. In some cases the company recognized the problem and poof they were gone.

I am always amazed that they feel “blindsided” and complain bitterly because after all, they “busted their butt” for the company. I guess they forgot that they were also well paid for the work they did.

It’s important to like what you do. It makes working so much better but don’t get the illusion that you are indispensable because no one is.

* There is a book called “People Leave Managers…Not Organizations!: Action Based Leadership”  It’s an interesting read.

19 thoughts on “The “I Deserve It” Syndrome | HR Memories

  1. Great points, Kate. Some only see what they want to see. Change comes as a result of a knee-jerk reaction. That’s unfortunate.

    I nearly quit one job because of a manager, and stayed at the same one job because of another. Managers should observe the “trickle-down” effect. Their work ethic and attitude do make a difference to the whole company – from top up to down.


  2. You’ve got this down pat! Arrogance is never pretty but when leaders believe that they have earned it, just as you say, it’s down right ugly. The fact that no one above ever notices or calls them on it points to how insidious it can become, how no one up there watches or seems to care, and how it can become it’s own culture. You said it so clearly that employees notice and what they see gets easily attributed to the company overall and especially the standards of the top person. Then when the bosses see overall performance decline, they don’t make the connections.Thanks for writing this power post. It was great!


    • Thanks! Every once in a while, I have to abandon the silly and do something serious! This was one of my pet peeves. It didn’t happen to everyone and I have worked for some really great people but when it goes down like this, the company is affected!


  3. Arrogant + lazy is never a good combo. People like the ones you describe have always been the bane of my existence– in the workplace, in volunteer committees, in social situations. I wonder why [or how] someone gets to be like that?


  4. I hadn’t heard the “People Leave Managers … Not Organizations” before, but it is SO true. When I think back to the jobs that I left when I was full-tilt into the corporate environment, it was the managers that I was leaving, and not the job. In fact, I often had people ask me if I was crazy for leaving XYZ Company (don’t you know how hard it is to get hired here????? etc etc), but after exhausting the usual chain-of-command in trying to better my working situation, it became clear that the only way anything was going to change was if I left that job, and went elsewhere. So I did.

    Interesting post …


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