Meeting Prima Donnas at Work

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If you get into a lot of arguments with your boss and don't enjoy your job, the problem may be that you're a self-serving narcissist rather than someone with a bad work situation. Sound harsh? Read on.

New research shows that employees who think they're entitled to preferential treatment are more prone to get into workplace conflicts and less likely to enjoy their job. Also, the numbers of the entitlement-minded are on the rise among younger workers.

Paul Harvey, assistant professor of management at the University of New Hampshire and co-author Mark Martinko of Florida State University, whose research appeared in the Journal of Organizational Behavior, found people who feel entitled to preferential treatment more often than not exhibit "self-serving attributional styles" - a tendency to take credit for good outcomes but blame others when things go wrong. These people are less happy in their jobs and more apt to cause conflict in the workplace, especially with their supervisors. These folks thrive in environments with a high level of ambiguity, says Harvey.

One way to combat these folks is to collect and document evidence that may be useful in establishing who's responsible for positive and negative results. "If you fear a coworker might take credit for something good you've done, it's smart to keep evidence of your involvement in the outcome," says Harvey. "For example, an e-mail from a stakeholder thanking you for your effort or performance on a task that can be used to refute the claims of a coworker trying to take credit for what you have accomplished."

Even relatively objective people can have a slight self-serving bias, Harvey notes. So before engaging someone for blaming you for a problem, or taking credit they don't deserve, be "totally honest with yourself, too," he says.

The Younger Generation

Younger workers, like "Generation Y" employees, are more apt to feel entitled, Harvey says. "These employees have unrealistic expectations and a strong resistance toward accepting negative feedback," managers have told him. "Managers are finding that younger employees are often very resistant to anything that doesn't involve praise and rewards."

So, short of taking a survey-based test, how do you know whether you're a prima donna?

"If your first assumption whenever something goes wrong is that it's someone else's fault, or if your first assumption about negative feedback at work is that your boss is in the wrong, for example, you might be one of these people," Harvey replies.

"Another common behavior is quitting jobs frequently due to the belief that you're not being treated right," he adds. "If you've been unhappy with many jobs and always feel the problem is with them and not you, the reverse may be true. It may instead be that the problem comes from the sense of entitlement and not the jobs."

Ironically, he says, if you're even willing to take an honest look at your behavior ("honesty" being the key word here), and think you might suffer from an over-inflated sense of entitlement, don't worry: You're probably not a prima donna.

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