Is the Entitlement Generation Really Entitled?

Funny Get Well Ecard: You have what we call an Irrational Sense of Entitlement. It won't kill you, but it will cause you to believe that you deserve things for doing nothing.

They are spoiled, uncooperative, impatient, lazy, and worse. These are just a few of the words used to describe some who have been deemed the “entitlement generation.” They are often called Millennials, or Gen Y, or even Generation C.

Sure, with stories like the 18-year old woman who is suing her parents for financial support flying around the web, is anyone really surprised?

Getting a Grip

I must admit, even as a latter Gen Y myself, this extreme entitlement mentality phenomenon somewhat shocks me. I would never come to conclude that I would sue my parents to support my “independent lifestyle.” Rather, I would hear my mother’s voice in my head saying what she used to say to me as a kid when I’d complain and moan:

“…Fine you want to leave… you’re so miserable… then just remember this – You leave this house the way you came into it – with nothing!”

Needless to say, I never left abruptly. And I certainly didn’t sue them for college tuition either!

Thanks, Mom!

Getting Focused

But about the young woman suing her parents, I had a very different upbringing. And I cannot take her example and project that entitled behavior on an entire generation. My parents taught me to not pass judgment based on one person’s behavior and then generalize that aberration across the entire population.

In fact, the entitlement generation (let’s just call them Millennials) do have a lot to bring to the table.

They bring new ways of doing things. They bring vitality, innovation, and next-gen savvy. With a record 47% of the active adult working population being labeled as a Millennial this year, there may be a lot of work left to be done to integrate them into the business world.

But for your business to grow and succeed, you should be harnessing what they have to offer and not scoffing at them.

Getting to the Next Level

Some hot button issues my clients usually mention relate to work hours, social mediatechnology, and an overall general attitude and communication style.

Though I am not one to recommend catering to any one particular demographics’ demands without requesting something in return, this generation has the potential to bring a business to the next level.

So rather than dig your feet into the ground – why not alter how you do business a bit to make it work for everyone – a win/win?

Getting Started

Here are a few ideas to help you get started:

Coaching and Communication

Millennials are not afraid to speak up or call the boss by his first name. They believe that communication is imperative in all directions, up, down, and lateral. To engage this generation create an environment where they are encouraged and rewarded for speaking up about ideas and concerns, regardless of level in the organization.

Don’t view this as disrespect; harness this style of communication, which often leads to innovation. Millennials prefer coaches, not bosses.

  • To engage Millennials, add a structured coaching or mentoring program to your organization – cross generational if possible. Build in frequent developmental check-ins and create a trusted relationship and space for discussion. Helping to guide open communication, career progression, and build trust leads to increased engagement, innovation, and high performance.


Millennials need to feel connected to the organization to stay engaged. They expect a seat at the table, want questions answered directly, often challenge the status quo, they have a need to understand the big picture – this doesn’t mean they expect to be CEO tomorrow. Don’t just give access and advice to your corporate strategy, mission, and vision to senior leaders.

Allow access to and input from your Millennial non-executive employees as well. They tend to feel more connected and engaged when they know their own values and beliefs and work align with those of the organization.

  • To engage Millennials, provide the opportunity to give and receive feedback, not just regarding their own careers but on the overall direction and vision of the organization, this is important to Millennials and helps them feel heard, respected, connected, and stay engaged.

Tap Into Technology

Millennials are used to technology, some were even born with it at their fingertips. They aren’t scared of new technologies and adapt fast to new innovations. Many are creating their own (do you have an app for that?) Don’t shy away from new technologies that enable telecommuting or virtual work environments, that facilitate learning and training on the go, or that help contribute to work life balance.

Utilize video teleconferencing, Webinars, and test out whatever is new and innovative. Technology can be used to encourage group and project based work. Use technology – and social media – to build in collaboration, create informal team building exercises, and as a communication tool for positive public relations for your organization.

  • To engage Millennials, use social media and new technology as a communication and feedback tool and for telecommuting and enhancing collaboration. Creating public forums for employees to pose insights, questions, and concerns, and for the organization to have a place to respond real time to address issues, and share information. This helps everyone feel heard and can increase engagement and productivity.

Getting Results

As you can see – there are things you can provide to harness Millennial innovation that doesn’t necessarily cost large sums of money nor do they alter your organization’s values and strategy.

This generation, when given the opportunity, provides businesses with ideas and innovations that will give you the edge when it comes to winning over customers.

(Just advise your General Counsel not to cancel the tuition reimbursement program!)

So how do you feel about the “entitlement generation?” Do you see these types of people in your organization? If so, how do you interact, deal with, and support their disposition? I would love to hear your thoughts!


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Scott Span

Scott Span, MSOD is President of Tolero Solutions OD & Change Management Firm
He helps clients be responsive, focused, and effective to facilitate sustainable growth
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L2L Contributing Author


  1. thompsoncj on March 27, 2014 at 10:11 am

    I believe Gen Y is really mostly confused. They have been socialized to know that “showing up” gets them a trophy. And they have been coddled by overindulging parents and don’t have a point of reference of what to expect. But they re also very coachable and want to please and with guidance they will bring a lot of innovation into a work environment as the embrace change quickly and are comfortable working in the realm of the newest technology. It will be up to companies to find the methods to provide training and coaching to bring them into a role of leadership however as it is not something they have been shown.

  2. lifechangesinc on March 27, 2014 at 10:29 am

    Scott, this is an excellent post. A solid coaching program will actually help leaders accomplish your other two recommendations. We find that leaders usually have two “reasons” for not coaching. First they don’t know how, and will sometimes even say so. The answer to this one is obviously to train them to coach. The second is that they “don’t have time.” We like to show them they have plenty of time, if they just use it correctly.

    Thanks for the wisdom.

  3. Scott Span, MSOD on March 27, 2014 at 10:46 am

    Thanks, and agreed. That is one of the main points covered in my workshop on the topic as well as in consulting on the subject. Mentoring and coaching can’t wait until an employee becomes a “leader” and it also can’t be reserved just for Boomer executives.

  4. Jon Mertz on March 27, 2014 at 11:54 am


    Stereotypes have never served any positive aspect in life, community, and leadership. The articles about this generation have been disappointing because mainly want to create barriers rather than eliminate them.

    As leaders, we need to share experiences across generations and learn from each other… no matter our age. I have learned a tremendous amount from Millennials and hope that I am passing on some of my experiences in return.

    Thanks! Jon

  5. George Graen on March 27, 2014 at 2:43 pm

    See my comment at

    • George Graen on March 28, 2014 at 5:11 am

      PwC study of millennials by USC and LBS found that they resigned before 2 years on the job. PwC is worryed and has spent millions on this problem involving over 40,000 employees globally.

  6. Scott Span, MSOD on March 27, 2014 at 3:06 pm

    I highly disagree, Jon. Stereotypes in fact are part of life and business. They exist very much for a reason, because in fact, they hold some basis in truth. They often serve as commonalities bringing like minded groups together. The important part is learning when to check them at the door and explore further the impacts and reactions. They do serve a purpose for learning, and learning, is a good thing.

    That said, in working with my Millennial advisory committee and having events where they can interact with my Boomer advisory committee, and share points of view as well and stereotypes – communication increases, awareness is raised, and leadership and engagement improve. Some orgs I’ve works with build this into the curriculum of their ERGs. It’s all about creating a dialogue and space for mutual learning.

    • Jon Mertz on March 27, 2014 at 4:56 pm

      I definitely agree with having a dialogue (conversation) to share experiences and dispel stereotypes but would never want to attend a training class that promotes stereotypes. We will have to disagree on that point. Stereotypes are defined as oversimplified, fixed images and most are not based in current fact. Stereotypes promote fixed mindsets and, for me, leadership is about growth, empathy, and embracing values that lift people up rather than paint them into some perceived box or corner. Thanks!

  7. Scott Span, MSOD on March 27, 2014 at 5:43 pm

    Leadership is about many things, yes. I never said I promote stereotypes, though groups of like minded people often do that unconsciously, what I was saying was that as they exist naturally they must be addressed via dialogue – not ignored. As addressing them promoted dialogue and raises awareness then thus they are not always bad.

    • Jon Mertz on March 27, 2014 at 7:23 pm

      Agreed. If we can dispel stereotypes through honest, open, conscious conversations, then progress will be made. Appreciate the exchange!