A sense of entitlement

Skill building leads to greater growth opportunities and promotions.
Photo courtesy Freepik -
Skill building leads to greater growth opportunities and promotions. Photo courtesy Freepik -

There is a difference between eligibility and the right to something.

You may be eligible for a promotion and a raise in pay, for example, which means if your performance and attitude justify it, in other words – if you have earned it, you may get it – but you cannot assume you have a right to it. You may be eligible to apply for it though.

If you have just done the same thing over and over again, year after year, not learning how to improve your skills, not learning more about how the organisation meets its changing objectives and how you can contribute to them, you probably will remain in the same permanent position.

But, the world is changing around you, employment and trade practices have changed and computerisation has affected every part of the economy including the part you are involved in.

Spanish is a language skill now needed by many organisations involved in trade.

Are you doing the same things in the same way with the same qualifications that you had ten years ago? Five years ago?

I once worked as a consultant doing training for a large insurance company, when towards the end of their financial year, one of the employees in a clerical position went to the human resource manager and quarrelled loudly and aggressively. Although he had been a good employee for the past 20 years, he had not been promoted, while other younger employees who had only been there for far fewer years were being promoted above him.

He came with a trainee shop steward from a different company which was unionised, one his wife worked for, who told the HR manager that his union was on a membership drive, intending to organise the employees of the company and he would be there to tell the workers when they were being unfairly treated.

I was actually impressed with him. He was very earnest and upfront about it, saying that in his opinion the workers were being unfairly treated, not in accordance with the principles of good industrial relations. He was a trainee with ambition.

He told the manager that under section 42 (2) and (3) of the Industrial Relations Act, he (manager) could be jailed for a year and fined $10,000 if he tried to threaten, alter the worker's position to their detriment or to adversely affect their employment because they intended to become a member of his trade union.

So he figured he had a right to be there. He didn’t, but he was giving it a good try. Fear sometimes works. At least he had studied the Industrial Relations Act.

I happened to be there doing a workshop with supervisors on the principles of good industrial relations, that week, so I could hardly refuse such a good opportunity to use this as an example of what I had been talking about.

The HR manager asked me to tell them in what way they had gone wrong. I had no idea, so the next day I asked the union representative, who came in at lunchtime, what his evidence of unfairness was and not surprisingly, he pointed to the husband who had not been promoted and said he was still doing the same job for the past 20 years when employees half his age had been promoted above him. Over that time, his wife had been promoted four times and was making considerably more than he now was. It taught me a valuable lesson, because he had a point.

Why, I wondered, had they allowed him to stay in one junior job for 20 years? Was the company wrong or was it the worker?

So I asked. Why had he not been promoted? Apparently, he had never applied for a promotion but, and this was the telling point, he expected that because "everybody" knew public servants and police officers automatically got promoted according to how many years they had worked.

"It was a public example, set by the government," he said and that eligibility for promotion counted from the actual date they were hired.

He proudly announced that was how it was supposed to work. He aspired to a junior managerial position that someone 20 years his junior was in, and therefore he had a "right" to.

I asked him what the qualifications for the job were. He didn’t know and had not asked. He thought he would be given that when he got the job.

So I asked what the job description was, what he would have to do if he got it and he didn’t know that either. He said he assumed they would train him once he got the job.

So why did he think he should get the job? He said because he was hired before the person currently in the job. And I wondered if length of service was, in the perception of other dissatisfied members of the public, why they "deserved" to be promoted, that longevity gave them the right. Is that really how police officers and public servants are promoted?

It is not an unusual perception, I discovered. People’s expectations may not be realistic, but they are real. And they will affect motivation and behaviour.

I wondered if the HR manager was aware of that. There was a performance management system in place. There were defined qualifications and job descriptions for every job.

The gap seemed to be in the nexus between communication and expectations. Where employees have the ambition and the potential, it may be an advantage to them and the company to let employees know what qualifications they need to reach the levels they are aiming at in the organisation and to encourage them to try.

I knew there were vacant positions in that company at higher levels, but he did not have his O levels, the minimum requirements for the next available position.

He had been offered training by the company, asking him to attend night classes at East Port of Spain Secondary, to make him eligible for promotion. He needed to learn computer literacy, but he turned the offer down, as he played cricket after work. Cricket, not computer literacy, was his priority. I respect that.

That is an honourable choice, he had the right to make, but not the right to demand promotion if he refused to accept the offer of training that could make him eligible.

Most private sector positions require more than longevity. Check it out.

There is a difference between eligibility and a right.


"A sense of entitlement"

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