Entitled Employees? How to Handle the Painfully Proud Teammate

What is Employee Entitlement?

Employee entitlement is defined as “an excessive self-regard of one’s abilities at work linked to a belief in the right to privileged treatment without consideration of all the factors involved in determining rewards and remuneration in that context” (Langerud & Jordan 2020). When an employee is displaying a sense of entitlement, this could look like expecting extra benefits without putting in extra effort. For example, an employee that expects a raise but has consistently called out of work. Employee entitlement is when rewards have not been earned but employees believe they deserve them. 

Employee entitlement interacts with an employee’s narcissism in an interesting way. A study of 167 working U.S. adults demonstrated that “when employees are high in narcissism, low entitlement employees are actually more likely to take charge than employees high in entitlement” (Klimchak, Carsten, Morrell, & MacKenzie 2016). This is an example of who low employee entitlement can be helpful in the workplace. 

When employees are high in narcissism and entitlement, the likelihood of taking charge decreases (Klimchak et. al 2016). Employees who are high in both narcissism and entitlement may be bad for business. Taking charge behaviors were measured with a questionnaire. Participants rated statements on a scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). Items included: 

In this study, employee entitlement was measured with the Psychological Entitlement Scale. Participants rated statements on a 5 point scale from disagree to agree. Items included:

The same study found that “highly entitled individuals will engage in more voice and taking charge when they demonstrate high levels of organizational identification” (Klimchak et. al 2016). This shows that entitlement may lead to positive workplace outcomes when that employee is high in narcissism or organization identification. Organizational identification was also measured with a questionnaire in which participants rated statements from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). Items included: 

What is Racial Entitlement? 

Similar to employee entitlement, racial entitlement involves when someone believes they deserve more benefits without extra effort. In terms of racial entitlement, people feel that they deserve an advantage or preferred treatment based on their race compared to people of other races. Racial entitlement stems from historical racial inequality.  Historically “dominant groups forge ideologies that justify their relative social and material advantages” (Durrheim, Dixon, Tredoux, Eaton, Quayle, & Clack 2011). 

When perceptions of these ideologies are violated  “groups can be said to be racially alienated when they perceive themselves to be unfairly disenfranchised” (Durrheim et. al 2011). The majority, who perceives themselves as deserving of their advantages, view equity efforts as a threat. For example, a 2019 study which used information from the 2004-2005 National Politics Study found that  many White people “ oppose affirmative action due to a sense of entitlement” (Mangum & DeHaan 2019). Racial entitlement can lead people to disagree with policies aimed at equality for minorities, such as affirmative action or preferential hiring practices. 

Opposition to policies aimed at equity oftentimes is related to the denial of racial discrimantion. People who deny discrimantion of minorities, feel as though hardships are caused by individual character flaws and therefore do not need to be fixed with policy. These people feel that they are entitled to the benefits of being part of the majority despite not having to put in extra effort to earn as much money, grow professionally, be treated with respect, and more.

The same study found that“many Whites support affirmative action to combat racial discrimination experienced by racial minorities” (Mangum & DeHaan 2019). The major difference being that people who supported affirmative action and preferential hiring practices understood that racial discrimination has been and continues to be an issue. 

Typically entitlement racism is used to justify overt or explicit racism.  Stephanie M. Ortiz of Florida Atlantic University analyzed 60 interviews with young adults about their experiences of racism. The results demonstrated that “entitlement racism [was used] to explain how respondents make sense of this “racists without racism” situation” (Ortiz 2020). People in the majority feel comfortable saying racist comments because of entitlement. Entitlement racism is used to justify overt racism, especially online. 

How Does Employee Entitlement Connect to Racial Entitlement?

Employee entitlement and racial entitlement become connected in the workplace. In a diverse workplace, there are going to be people from majority and minority backgrounds. Bias and discrimination in the workplace has long been a problem for women and racial and ethnic minorities. 

Employers may confuse employee entitlement with fair negotiations due to racial bias. A 2019 study of 272 working U.S. adults found that when negotiating salaries Black employees were penalized with lower salaries than their White counterparts because “evaluators become more resistant to making concessions to Black than to White job seekers” (Hernandez, Avery, Volpone, & Kaiser 2019). In this study the evaluators demonstrated racial entitlement bias through awarding White applicants with higher salaries while lower the salary of Black applicants. The White candidates did not put in extra effort to receive extra rewards but evaluators felt they were entitled to more money as well as entitled to have salary negotiations. Evaluators penalized Black job applicants because they felt these applicants were not entitled to asking for more money. 

The impact of racial bias is evident to minority employees and is detrimental to the workplace. Minority employees are aware of this discrepancy in treatment. A 2015 study surveyed 160 Black, Hispanic and Native American professionals in one industry in the USA, researchers found that higher racial awareness (measured by the Awareness of Racial Privilege Scale) leads to lower trust in management (Buttner & Lowe 2015). Minority employees that are aware of majority privilege and minority disadvantage are more attentive to management treatment. 

Ways to Combat Entitlement 

These are some possible ways to combat racial and employee entitlement in the workplace. This is not an extensive list of interventions that could be implemented. 

1. Emotional Regulation for Decreasing Racial Entitlement

Emotional regulation can help mitigate the negative impacts of racial entitlement. Researchers suggest that “interventions that support the regulation of negative emotions, such as experiencing self-transcendent emotions, decrease the link between collective narcissism and intergroup hostility” because “results of two correlational studies indicate that the link between collective narcissism and prejudice is weaker among grateful people” (Golec de Zavala, Dyduch,  & Lantos 2019). In this context can be thought of as racial entitlement because “collective narcissism is a belief that one’s own group (the ingroup) is exceptional and entitled to privileged treatment but it is not sufficiently recognized by others” (Golec de Zavala et. al 2019). 

2. Ethical Leadership for Decreasing Employee Entitlement 

A 2019 study found that “the negative relationship between employee entitlement and workplace engagement is strengthened when ethical leadership is low, yet mitigated when ethical leadership is high” (Joplin, Greenbaum, Wallace, & Edwards 2019). Ethical leadership was measured through questionnaires filled out by employees about their boss. Employees had to indicate to what level they agree with statements such as “My supervisor disciplines employees who violate ethical standards'' (Joplin et. al 2019). An ethical leader is someone who values fairness for all people involved in decision making, is trustworthy and honest, and upholds policies in an equal manner. 

3. Multiculturalism for Decreasing Racial Bias 

Some interventions of racial bias and discrimantion has a color-blind approach. This means that racial differences do not matter and should not make a difference in decisions such as hiring, promotions, school acceptances, and more. Multiculturalism is an approach that is opposite of the color-blind approach. Multiculturalism acknowledges racial and ethinic differences as something that should be welcomed and celebrated. 

The results of a study on White American college students “suggested that, relative to the multicultural perspective, the color-blind perspective generated greater racial attitude bias measured both explicitly and on the more unobtrusive reaction time measure” (Richeson & Nussbaum 2004). Racial bias training should have a focus on multiculturalism instead of ignoring cultural differences. 

How Can LIFE Intelligence help?

The LIFE Intelligence app is a 9 mission (topic) leadership development program that aims to help users manage themselves, their relationships, and their career. LIFE has a specific focus on emotional management and self-regulation skills. As mentioned above, regulating negative emotions weakens racial entitlement based on collective narcissism. Used as a team-building activity, LIFE can not only improve individual skills, but also improve empathy for everyone involved in a situation. Help your team help themselves and others by sharing in these LIFE lessons.

Alba Corney
February 20, 2021


Buttner, E. H., & Lowe, K. B. (2015). Racial awareness: Effects on justice perceptions and trust in management in the USA. Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal, 34(1), 2-20.

Durrheim, K., Dixon, J., Tredoux, C., Eaton, L., Quayle, M., & Clack, B. (2011). Predicting support for racial transformation policies: Intergroup threat, racial prejudice, sense of group entitlement and strength of identification. European Journal of Social Psychology, 41(1), 23–41.

Golec de Zavala, A., Dyduch, H. K., & Lantos, D. (2019). Collective Narcissism: Political Consequences of Investing Self‐Worth in the Ingroup’s Image. Political Psychology, 40, 37–74.

Hernandez, M., Avery, D. R., Volpone, S. D., & Kaiser, C. R. (2019). Bargaining while Black: The role of race in salary negotiations. Journal of Applied Psychology, 104(4), 581–592.

Joplin, T., Greenbaum, R. L., Wallace, J. C., & Edwards, B. D. (2019). Employee entitlement, engagement, and performance: The moderating effect of ethical leadership: JBE. Journal of Business Ethics, , 1-14.

Klimchak, M., Carsten, M., Morrell, D., & MacKenzie, W. I. (2016). Employee Entitlement and Proactive Work Behaviors: The Moderating Effects of Narcissism and Organizational Identification. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 23(4), 387–396.

Langerud, D. H., & Jordan, P. J. (2020). Entitlement at work: Linking positive behaviors to employee entitlement. Journal of Management and Organization, 26(1), 75-94.

Mangum, M., & DeHaan, L. (2019). Entitlement and Perceived Racial Discrimination: The Missing Links to White Opinions Toward Affirmative Action and Preferential Hiring and Promotion. American Politics Research, 47(2), 415–442.

Ortiz, S. (2020.). Racists without racism? From colourblind to entitlement racism online. Ethnic and Racial Studies, ahead-of-print(ahead-of-print), 1–21.

Richeson, J. A., & Nussbaum, R. J. (2004). The impact of multiculturalism versus color-blindness on racial bias. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 40(3), 417-423.

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