When entitlement blocks the view of reality

Sorry about the trend of work-related posts lately. Things are actually going very well, but when other people and their problems try to dominate my office hours, it leaks into my blogging life as well.

And makes me realize once again how sucky it is to be a supervisor or a boss. Why can’t people just do their jobs and limit their bitching about said jobs to outside of working hours?

Maybe the observation about being “too nice” was more on-point than I realize. Maybe I am too nice. Lately I seem to be finding myself dealing with difficult people not in touch with reality as I know it, and I am far too polite to laugh out loud at their delusions.

I had to do my receptionist’s performance review today. While her princess attitude about kitchen clean-up (which is primarily washing out the coffee maker and wiping down the counters and tables in the breakroom), there have been other performance issues that have been escalating. She is someone who is ambitious and wants to seen as an up-and-comer, and while she is not planning on attending law school, she does imagine herself in my job sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, what she is failing to understand is that she needs to perform well at the job she has now before additional responsibility (and compensation) can be considered for her.

I cannot make this shit up, and believe me when I say I wish it were all in my head.

Today I had this startling realization that in her view, everyone in the firm is at the same level, except maybe the partners. Not just the paralegals and me, but all the attorneys as well. We are all “just people doing jobs” in her view, and therefore the drudgery should be shared as well as the thrill of victory and agony of defeat for our clients.

To my complete and total amazement, she proceeded to describe how she feels entitled to the perks and benefits of being a practicing attorney as a member of the firm. By being part of a small business, she contributes to its success and she deserves greater recognition and status that she has been granted to date. And while she admits there are a lot of nice things done for the staff, her view is there is not enough sharing of the drudgery as well.

As I am standing here typing this post, I am idly wondering if having my head spin completely around is a reasonable excuse for cancelling my training appointment tomorrow. Perhaps it will positively impact my desire to shrug in ways that render exercises less effective. Maybe I need to see a chiropractor to ensure it is sitting straight after listening to her dissertation on the unfairness of her job and work life. I actually took no pleasure in dismantling her world view, because bizarre as it is/was, she very earnestly explained herself from notes she had written on the subject to ensure she remembered all she wanted to say and was understood.

I suggested we table further discussion about the firm until after going through the nuts and bolts of her performance review, which also did not make her happy. She deserves a response to her points (her words, not my perception of what she said), and I promised we would go back to that after going over my evaluation of her job performance.

I went over each area with her – the good, the improving, the needs immediate improvement areas. With each item I was prepared with specific examples of her behaviors and work habits, because she tends to want to disagree with me when I state there are things she could or must do differently. From the first day of working with her I learned to document every conversation, every instruction in writing, or we would be having a she said/she said discussion instead of a constructive conversation to get her back on track.

Disagreeing with me I can handle and respect. However, being passive-aggressive in her defenses will get her nowhere except judged with an increasing level of disdain. My predecessor was a black-and-white micromanager; I am not. I believe most people have the skills and abilities to competently perform the jobs they have held for more than 2 years, or why are they still here? Maybe more training is required? A clearer illustration of what is required? With her what I have found is she does enough to be tolerated, because hiring and training takes time and energy. Plus she can be sweet, charming, and apologetic for her shortcomings, along with big-eyed promises to never do it again.

If your position and job is support staff, good performance of your job means the professional staff are not having to spend their time searching through mounds of unfiled documents, searching for faxes or copies that were not delivered, or a myriad of other things that get pushed back in favor of selecting flowers for the lobby or ordering office supplies every day. I am actually not sure why it has been tolerated so long, but my patience is a finite resource. I believe she has potential, and I have been systemically stripping responsibilities from her in order to get her focused on priority tasks. She has not been terribly happy with me because of it. She has tried hard to be nice, to earn back tasks she likes or perceives as higher-level, but her consistency has been lacking.

Until a couple of weeks ago when the coffee and breakroom duties came up, I truly had no idea how strongly and how wrongly her thinking about office life. She does take college classes and is a single parent, both of which I have done as well and know how difficult it is to juggle everything. But how she got to this point of “the firm owes me” and “I deserve more” attitude is a big mystery. A frustrating mystery. And in another rendition of my career, it would have resulted in a “there’s the door” response.

But today I had to break it down so she understood where she lives on the firm’s food chain. And it was not pleasant shattering her entitlement bubble. There were tears. There was anger. There was a raised voice (hers) and foot-stomping demands (without the actual foot stomping) that I revise the way the world works to suit her version of reality where she is victim and slave in a vast conspiracy designed to keep her down and in her place (to be fair – that is my interpretation and instinctive reading of her reactions).

It was like dealing with an angry teenager. It made me wonder if it was too late to start learning to drink alcohol or take recreational drugs. Or my fallback position – chocolate. Thankfully there are no vending machines or convenience stores conveniently located near the office.

I honestly cannot understand the sense of entitlement that is so prevalent right now. Maybe I am truly hardening into the twilight of my life, because I feel truly ignorant in my lack of understanding. I know lots of 20-somethings who work very hard and have no expectations of doing anything else to make their way through life. Now I have come face-to-face with 2 afflicted with the entitlement bug in 2 months. It’s awful. I want to go back to my state of blissful ignorance where such people were urban myths I read about on the internet.

Once upon a time J told me that I was not a special snowflake that got my own unique training List privacy protected from the rest of the training tribe. The idea was novel to me, that I could be any sort of snowflake much less a special snowflake in that regard. Of course the exercises he was teaching me would be the same or at least part of what he utilized with other members at a similar learning phase, and I was horrified inside that I might have inadvertently made him think I felt like anything other than the special needs member who had her own brand of gym crazy and did not catch on very quickly. In truth I am absolutely certain I am part of some standard mold and was mass produced to be the Jane Average model on the assembly line of creation.

So faced with yet another level and example of millennial entitlement blindness, I was sort of dumbfounded as to what to say in response to her insistence that I was isolating her for mean girl treatment. Sorry, you special snowflakes have no place in my world order? That sounded truthful, but kind of harsh.

I went with my professional gold standard and simply said that working for me is different than my predecessor. I am clear and direct about my expectations with regard to her job description – of which I had a the copy she signed when she accepted the job from her personnel file – and if she felt unable to fulfill her responsibilities, that is a completely different conversation about her “fit” within the firm. I was not prepared to go there unless she really wanted to go there, and mercifully she backed down. I was not yet prepared to shorten my life further by dealing with temps this week.

At the end of 90 minutes, she refused to sign her review. I called the senior associate in to witness her refusal and documented it on the evaluation form. There were tears and abrupt departure from my office and then bailing 2 hours early … and notifying me of it via email.

*sigh* I hate being a supervisor.

But I have no regrets about my evaluation or the meeting. Hopefully she will recognize that I am trying to help her grow and mature as a worker, and even if she aspires to something more than admin work, I am a good training resource to help her get there. Paying your dues at the bottom rung of an office ladder is partly life lesson, partly learning how to navigate in such environments. Unless your family happens to own the firm and will simply give you the dream job, salary, and title, everyone has to start somewhere, and usually it’s the equivalent of the bottom of the business hierarchy.

Just please let her not be someone who runs to her parents for help, support, and intervention with the mean boss.

6 thoughts on “When entitlement blocks the view of reality

  1. OMG – how can people think like that? I don’t understand at all. And if the firm is big enough to hire her – lawyers shouldn’t be wiping down the counters. Their time better used billing clients to cover her salary/benefits.

    This is why I love love love not supervising anyone. Tried one employee – couldn’t take it. A colleague when I was in government asked me to mentor him – he wanted to be promoted and I had been promoted very quickly so he thought I had a secret sauce (besides hard work and always saying yes to new duties – habits I learned when I started in admin). One thing I noted was that his emails had a number of misspellings and he should turn on automatic spell check – which I completely depended on for my work. His response was that until he got the next level of promotion he didn’t think that was necessary. A professional job making almost 6 figures and spell checking his work was too much to ask. I told him I couldn’t help him with the promotion issue – we just didn’t see things the same way.

    Fingers crossed this situation turns out better and no parents appear!

    • I was deeply traumatized by the parental involvement in my last HR endeavor! Seriously, having just gone through few weeks of the recruiting process with this firm, I think there is a bit of a blindspot when it comes to the very intelligent candidates. The professionals interviewing look at education and experience, whereas I am looking at overall “fit” within the firm and its culture. My preferred candidates were distant second or third choices, which I found interesting, and they found it intriguing my reasons for why I scored the candidates I liked so highly. Believe me, I have made plenty of hiring mistakes – it’s such a crap shoot – but they did invite back my 2 preferred choices for second interviews so we shall see how it goes from there.

      I hate saying this, but there is a bit of a “pretty” bias that happens with my receptionist. My predecessor was an old-school guy who wanted a pretty girl at the desk and got one. Her spare competencies has just been tolerated because she’s “just the receptionist.” In my realm no one is “just” anything, and she will either learn to do her job appropriately or not. I’m here to help her, but she has a bit of growing up to do if she expects to succeed.

  2. Yes, one day she will thank you. But not now. She is supremely miffed that you don’t acknowledge the basic truths of her “argument”. I doubt you will be able to save her. Her mind is now made up, by refusing to sign the performance review. Yours should be made up to. But she will thank you … 5 or 10 years from now, when she finally begins to understand that “entitlement” has no place in the performance-based world.

    • Thanks, Marty. It’s really sad, because I like her as a person, believe she has a lot of great qualities. However, the longer I have been here, the more I treat her like an adult capable of making adult decisions and choices, the worse it got. Perplexing, to be sure. More than anything, it’s a difference in leadership style – my predecessor was a complete micromanager and I am not. The greater expectation her to make wise choices on her own, the worse it has become.

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