Are Work Benefits a Personal Responsibility or an Entitlement?

Recently I’ve come across many cases where people are receiving benefits  that seem to me, on the surface at least, to be rather lucky.  These benefits have varied from grandparent childminding, stress massages, stress days off from work, maternity leave from a potential employer, after hours meals and taxis, paid family holidays, home baby help and more.  People seem to think these benefits are ‘necessary’ to survive their work.  They believe they are entitled to them.

These are all great benefits to receive.  But not everyone can receive them, so there’s an equity question here.  Even more, I wonder whether these benefits are necessary at all.  Why does this generation need these benefits, to be provided by someone else?  And who should be responsible:  people themselves, their employer, or the government?

Different values lead to different answers

This question divides people along values lines.  Believers in personal responsibility will say that people should look after themselves, with social and economic safety nets only being provided for those (few) for whom it is necessary.  Believers in social welfare, will argue that individuals have to be supported by their employers and the state– groups that have the resources and power.  Those in the middle might argue that the state should provide some general benefits (eg maternity leave), businesses should provide specific benefits (eg support for unsocial hours or arduous conditions) while individuals should provide for personal benefits (eg stress massages, nannies, paid family holidays).

The problems are:

–          What is the dividing line between these areas of responsibility?  Who should pay for each benefit?

–          There is a never-ending demand for new benefits.  As one benefit is given and becomes an ‘entitlement’, the next one in the line becomes the new focus.

NONE of these benefits were available to me when I was working fulltime, yet ALL of them (and many more) are now argued as being ‘necessary’ entitlements to survive in today’s workforce.

‘In the old days…’:  personal responsibility

Looking back, we both worked while bringing up the children.  We managed without grandparent assistance.  We paid for our own cheap family holidays every year.  We bought second hand goods.  We did handyman work around the house.  We survived while I was away on many working days each year.  And we survive very well now, because we saved a lot throughout our working careers.*

These approaches – based on the concept of personal responsibility – seem to be anathema to modern young families.  Someone else does the childminding, cooking, repairs.  Everything must be new.  Expensive, overseas holidays are necessary.  Organisations and governments need to provide benefits so stress levels are lowered and we can have everything NOW.

Government responsibilities

Over time, general social norms and expectations change.  Governments are set up to deal with these changes.  Maternity leave is such a change.  It is now expected.  But no such expectation existed when we had babies.  Finding and paying for childcare was necessary if both partners wanted to work.  But should a woman who is pregnant (or even one who is planning to be pregnant) go for a job with a new employer without telling the employer of this? (Employers can’t ask this question, even though women generally know what they plan to do.)

Organisational responsibilities

Similarly, over time, organisations are continually faced with specific new demands.  That’s the nature of employment bargaining.  People want more.  Employers give more, over time.  But when did it become OK for a highly paid employee to have the family travel overseas, to have a nanny provided, to have expensive meals provided for after-hours work?  These personal benefits are wonderful…but someone – the end customer or the taxpayer – has to pay for them.  How do you think they feel if they know of these benefits?  Why do highly paid employees feel ‘entitled’ to them?

Tips of the iceberg

These examples are just a few of many, many benefits that exist for working people at all levels now.  What I find interesting is the increasing assumption that all these benefits are ‘necessary’ or ‘justified’ due to the stress of the job or the nature of the work conditions AND that someone else – the end customer or taxpayer – should pay for this.

Personal responsibility for keeping oneself independent of government and organisation support should be a fundamental for a good society.  The more people who are self-supporting, independent, the more we can focus benefits on the few who really need to be supported.  We seem to be in danger of forgetting that all these benefits are also costs.  Someone pays. In the end, that ‘someone’ is ‘us’, whether as a customer, a taxpayer or a shareholder.

We need leadership to restore personal responsibility as a key society value and reduce the ‘entitlement’ culture we are developing.

*(I should also declare that we bought other property and used a company structure for some income, but our negative gearing was minimal, we didn’t use a trust and we paid a lot of tax in total each year.)

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