By Scott Tackett

Is there a difference between engaged employees and entitled employees? To be blunt, there is a big difference, and that difference may be causing your company to grow or causing it to stumble and impede growth. Let’s look at the differences.

For many years, I have talked about the fact that my experience tells me we have three categories of employees in every organization: stars (engaged), fence sitters (marginalized), and actively disengaged. I have now realized that in many companies we have another category that has been created by our ineffective leadership—the entitled employees.

Here is my definition, as I see it, of the difference between engaged employees and entitled employees.

  • Engaged Employees: Those who are comfortable using their own decision-making skills to help accomplish the goals of the organization.
  • Entitled Employees: Those who have a sense that they can make decisions, but they are not really concerned about or feel they are responsible for the overall success of the company.

Take a few minutes and think about your employees. Consider how many (and who) fall into each of the four categories. Then think about this.

Gallup research shows a very sobering statistic regarding employee engagement: “Only 15% of employees worldwide and just 34% in the U.S. are engaged in their jobs.”

You don’t need to be a math major to determine that having a workforce where up to 85% of our employees are disengaged is not helping us reach our organizational goals. The companies that are most profitable have proven that financial success and successful customer experiences are absolutely linked to employee engagement.

It might be time to rethink what we have been doing—and what we had better start doing before it’s too late.

In an article written for Forbes, leadership expert Cy Wakeman offered this thought: “As leaders, why do we spend so much time trying to fix our employees’ circumstances? If we’re listening to conventional management wisdom, we probably believe (or hope) that a stress-free, obstacle-fee working environment will magically turn everyone into happy, productive employees.”

Another and maybe more accurate management view that many organizational leaders are coming to grips with is that the pizza parties, big company lunches, let’s-get-together-and-go-bowling nights, and everyone meeting for happy hour on Fridays may not be effective overall in creating engaged employees. Now, I am not saying that we should stop any or all of these activities, but I think we may be getting bogged down on benefits or perks as opposed to creating a culture of expectations and accountability which, in turn, leads to engagement rather than entitlement.

“The main difference between employee experiences driven by benefits (parties and other perks) and employee experience driven by impact is very clear,” states Lior Arussy, president of Strativity Group. “The former focuses on doing things TO employees. The latter focuses on ENABLING employees to do things FOR others.”

In fact, according to a 2014 Intelligence Group survey, 64% of millennials said they would rather make $40,000 a year at a job they love than $100,000 a year at a job they find unfulfilling. While this generation may get a lot of flak for jumping from job to job, feeling entitled, and so much more, they seem to have this figured out: “Give us a job that makes us feel empowered and impactful, and we’ll stick around, work hard, and remain engaged.”

Creating engaged employees

Certainly, many companies and organizations across the spectrum of business either have or are creating cultures of engagement, and they are seeing successes that will ensure their continued growth and prosperity. There are a few common characteristics in their leadership and management behaviors and, while they may not be new, they are being employed consistently throughout the organization by the owner and every member of their management team:

  • Spend more time with your engaged employees and less time with the actively disengaged. Listen to what your engaged employees think and feel. Get rid of the actively disengaged.
  • Require individual accountability and stop accepting excuses.
  • Stop trying to have a perfect workplace. It’s never going to happen, and engaged employees realize this.
  • Keep informing and inspiring your team through leading by example.
  • Don’t fall victim to the concept of “What’s in it for me?” Instead, create a mindset of “What’s in it for us?”
  • Don’t think you can run your company or department by consensus. Successful businesses are not democracies. This doesn’t mean that you don’t ask for and expect feedback, but sometimes you will need to make difficult decisions that many employees will not agree with.
  • Stop allowing the entitled employee to hold you hostage.

In closing, this statement in an article by Smart HR really hits the mark:

“By treating employees like the powerful, impactful people that they are (rather than employees that need to have things done for or to them), companies flip the switch between employee empowerment vs entitlement. This important distinction sets the tone of the workplace and encourages employees to take charge, which, in the long run, benefits both the employee and employer.”

Empowerment leads to true engagement. This may be the “secret” to employees that are happy, productive, and successful. Try it!


Scott Tackett is a Business Development Advisor for Violand Management Associates (VMA), a highly-respected consulting company in the restoration and cleaning industries. He is considered the leading expert in restoration and cleaning for Human Resource Development and Organizational Leadership with over 30 years of experience. Through Violand, Tackett works with companies to develop their people and profits. To reach him, visit Violand.com or call (800)360-3513.