Entitlement – Stability or Curse?

There will be, of course, companies both in and outside of the printing industry that will survive this current upheaval and be positioned for extraordinary prosperity. Post analysis of these businesses will reveal that they excelled in customer service and creative marketing, they embraced leading technologies while carrying a solid balance sheet and were highly productive operations.

While these characteristics are obvious, these companies will also embrace other intangible distinctions that defy company size, geographic location, market positioning or product concentrations. It has to do with their corporate culture and values.

During difficult times, when most companies are focused on ways to reduce costs to stay competitive, the cost of labor looms high on the priority hit list. For example, if you or your department is in the crosshairs for elimination as part of a corporate survival strategy, your defensive reaction will probably suggest that you are already too late to adjust to the new reality. This defensiveness is often expressed in the attitude, “I’ve been loyal; I’ve worked hard; I’ve done what the company asked. Aren’t my past contributions worth something now?” The feeling of entitlement is a normal human reaction.

Entitlement is defined as the “right or claim for something.” The implication is that because of previous sacrifices or good deeds, the individual or business deserves special consideration. The classic example from the business perspective is, “My company has supplied you with these widgets for decades. How can you consider leaving us over a low-ball price of only a nickel a unit?” And from the individual’s perspective, “I’ve worked here for twenty years. I deserve continued wage increases until I retire.”

Reality takes exception to this attitude. Businesses offering the same products and services or individuals holding the same skills as a decade earlier are prone to be obsolete in the marketplace of this millennium. This can be attributed to both technological advances and free enterprise. The prevailing attitude of, “price, quality, or serviceC9 choose two of the three” has not been the mantra for most of the printing industry since the 1980s. The vendors of choice are offering all three plus additional service enhancements that clients perceive of value.

To remain competitive, companies have heavily invested in new technologies and training of employees to keep their skills current. However, return on investment has often not achieved expectation because the anticipated savings have either been passed on to clients as “shared process savings” or to employees as higher wages and benefits.

Traditional entitlements challenged

In recent years, many in-plant printers have considered outsourcing their operations. While labor costs have normally not been out of line, generous fringe benefits due to competition and length of service, have put total labor cost into the upper tiers. Yet the real issue that makes many of these in-plants questionably competitive is that they operate on a one-shift-plus-overtime basis while many other print sources offer faster turn around time and cost savings due to multiple shifts.

This issue could be addressed by putting existing staff on a flexible schedule particularly during peak periods. For example, the three-week time period before each school semester is often a seasonal production hump. Instead of offering the traditional 9 to 5 coverage during this increased volume period, the shop would open at 7:00 am and close at 8:00 pm One or more employees would work 7:00 am to 3:00 pm, while his counterpart would come in at noon and work till 8:00 pm. No overtime would be involved, costs could be adjusted and turn around service enhanced.

Utilization of equipment increases from eight to thirteen hours a day and employees who refuse to adjust their hours accordingly because historically they received overtime pay, are setting themselves up to be outsourced. Their attitude of entitlement could be self-destructive.

Encouraging employee initiative

Training and education is essential for both management and employees. While leading-edge companies will provide access to as many educational resources as possible, employees should also take personal initiative to keep their skills current.

For instance, many national and regional trade shows are complemented with educational and skill upgrading opportunities. Employees should attend and not expect to be paid if they attend over the weekend. The company should provide transportation, overnight accommodations and meal expenses but overtime wages should not be expected. Good employees take responsibility of investing in themselves.

The printing industry has over thirty publications available covering all aspects of the print trade. Employees should subscribe to relevant magazines with the issues sent to their home – not work – address. Interesting articles and salient sections underlined for distribution to fellow employees should be encouraged.

Some companies have decided to include all journeymen employees in a profit-sharing pool rather than automatically giving inflationary wage increases. This shifts the attitude of entitlement. For this to be successful, management needs to share financial results with employees. A full profit and loss statement is more information than many employees need or are trained to understand. Sharing financial ratios compared with the printing industry is often effective at highlighting strengths and weaknesses.

If management is not willing to share this basic information with their employees, why should their employees trust them with the actual profit-sharing pool? For family-operated firms, this is often a difficult but essential disclosure.

Management not immune to entitlement attitude

Management is not immune to this entitlement bug either. But there are differences: they assume greater responsibilities and greater financial risks. In turn they receive higher compensation than their fellow employees. But management can’t expect to change compensation systems without placing their own compensation under the magnifying glass for scrutiny.

For example, the owner of a printing company announced that there wouldn’t be wage increases because the company lost money. The following week he drove into the company parking lot with a new Lexus. As far as he was concerned, this was a standard lease rollover. However, most employees don’t understand the tax benefits of leasing and only see the boss exercising a double standard. Don’t be insensitive to your employees, who were asked to make a sacrifice regardless of what the accountant says.

Entitlement carries a negative connotation when exercised by someone else but it holds everyone back from achieving greater potential. Corporate cultures that acknowledge the existence of entitlement can judiciously remold management and employees into being self-motivated change agents in a difficult business environment. It’s a new ball game with different rules requiring different skills from each team member. Words and actions must reinforce the precept: “We appreciate your loyalty and dedication in the past however for our firm to remain viable in the future, everyone needs to work smarter, more creatively and more flexibly in terms of tasks performed and hours worked. Please spend your time and the company’s money as if you were solely accountable for it.”

The printing business will never return to the ‘good o’ days’. What are we really entitled to? If your job position became available today, would you be the leading candidate for the position? Would the compensation package offered be the same as you are receiving? These questions pertain to management as well as hourly employees.

Are we entitled to a comfortable living, a democratic society, freedom or even the love of our spouse? If our attitude is one of gratitude, servitude and earning the respect of those around us, then maybe we are entitled to a little slack. But if we’ve put-in-our-time, paid-our-dues, and expect more of the good life, then we could be standing on a slippery slope.