As I See It: Entitlement Master Class
June 19, 2023 Victor Rozek
It’s a complex topic impacted by changing social, economic and political norms, but for our purposes let’s just say that it’s not unusual for older generations to accuse their offspring of wallowing in entitlement.
And there’s often some truth in it. Historically, each generation sets the prosperity bar – and accompanying expectations – higher for their progeny. And, whatever level of abundance they’ve grown up with becomes the baseline unthinkingly taken for granted. So, if someone grows up in a big house, with multiple cars, nice clothes and enough to eat, there’s little reason to think that won’t always be the case. The fact that their parents toiled 30 years or more to achieve their level of affluence and ease, gets lost in the plenty.
But while a certain amount of entitlement can be understood and excused in those with limited life experience, when expressed by older generations it can appear unseemly. (OK, in the instance I’m about to describe “unseemly” is probably too mild a word, but I’ll leave it to the reader to supply their own descriptors.)
Boomers and Gen Xers frequently lament the lack of work ethic in Millennials, seemingly indignant that they could possibly want a living wage while also having interests and desires that stretch outside the workplace. Well, Millennials, the next time some bemoaning Boomer or garrulous Gen Xer impugns the conduct of your entire generation, offer them these two words in rebuttal: Ian Clifford.
Clifford, arguably the poster boy for middle-aged entitlement, is a Gen Xer living in England, employed by IBM as an IT specialist. Notice I said “employed by” not “working for” because Ian hasn’t actually worked in 15 years.
It all started going south in 2008 when, as reported by The Telegraph, Ian went on paid sick leave. It must have been one hell of a serious illness because there he remained until 2013, at which time he grew dissatisfied and, as The Telegraph described in understated British fashion, “raised a grievance.” For five years the company had been generous enough to pay him to stay home and tend to whatever undisclosed ailment or condition had befallen him. (It was subsequently reported by some sources that he suffered from leukemia.) But that, apparently, was not enough. “Mr Clifford complained that he had not received a pay rise and or any holiday pay for the five-year period.” I kid you not.
Rather than dismiss his complaint as delusional, IBM actually negotiated with him. The end result of those negotiations was that he was placed on the company’s disability plan. The plan is quite generous and heavily weighted toward the employee. Under its provisions, he had no obligation to work, but the company still had an obligation to pay him a large portion of his salary.
Under the provisions of the disability plan an employee would receive 75 percent of his salary until he either recovered, retired, or passed on to the multinational conglomerate in the sky. Clifford’s salary was agreed to be just over £72,000, or $89,540 which meant he would receive over £54,000 or over $67,000 per year—for doing exactly nothing. By retirement, 30 years hence, it was estimated he would have received over £1.5 million, or a whopping $1,865,000.
That’s not Elon Musk money, but it’s a far cry from starvation wages. Regardless, with an additional 30 years of eligible benefits, and time to save, invest, and perhaps make lifestyle modifications, one would think the benefits would facilitate a reasonably comfortable life.
Amazingly, Clifford was also paid an extra £8,685, or about $10,800 to settle his holiday pay complaint, and in return “agreed never to raise a further grievance about the same issues.”
But, in February of last year, Clifford filed a disability discrimination claim against IBM with an “employment tribunal,” basically echoing the same laments he aired ten years prior. Again he complained he had not gotten a raise since 2013, nor additional holiday pay, and argued that inflation was eating into the value of his benefits. I suspect the fact that he had provided zero value to the company for the past 15 years, which was nibbling away at the company’s profitability, was omitted from his argument.
A hearing was held, saner minds prevailed, and an employment judge dismissed the case. The judge basically ruled that since only the disabled could apply for this benefit, “it is not disability discrimination that the plan is not even more generous.” It is, in fact, more favorable than the options available to non-disabled workers.
Corporations are often vilified, and rightly so, for the harm they cause and their heartless treatment of employees. But this was not the case. Quite the opposite. To carry an employee for fifteen years, pay the lion’s share of his salary without fail, and expect nothing in return, is an extraordinary act of compassion and generosity.
Certainly, in a civilized society, the sick and disabled merit our help and support – not only for their sake but as a measure of who we are. IBM’s treatment of Mr. Clifford is a shining example of the best in us. But of necessity, even the best will have limits.
Leukemia is a broad term for a variety of blood cancers. The type of leukemia depends on the type of blood cell that becomes cancerous and whether it grows quickly or slowly. Whatever form of leukemia Clifford has, it is unlikely to be work-related. If Mr. Clifford has indeed been battling leukemia these past fifteen years, in one respect he is already fortunate: the average life expectancy for leukemia patients is much lower. And he is fortunate again to have been employed by a caring company that has had his back for a decade and a half and will continue its support until his retirement or passing.
Entitlement is a two part concept. The first part is the belief that we are due something that should rightfully be ours. The second is that someone else is obliged to give it to us. Entitlement itself can become a disease, a malaise of the spirit, spawning chronic dissatisfaction fueled by resentment. It can’t be a pleasant way to live.
But there is an antidote, and its name is gratitude.