I remember growing up listening to my father, a small business owner, talk (okay complain) about this “younger generation.” He would go on endlessly about how their hair was too long, their music too loud, and how their lack of work ethic was going to ruin this country. Well, while not much has changed over time in terms of the older generation complaining about today’s younger workers, the descriptions, goals, and motivations of this current generation certainly have.
In today’s marketplace, so much more than the economy has changed: Society, consumers, and competition have been altered, and all of that has impacted and changed your employees. If your goal is to attract, develop, and retain today’s best and brightest, then you need to begin by understanding today’s employees, no matter their age or their generation.
Today’s employees, just like those who have gone before, are smart and innovative; but unlike their predecessors, the economic environment and business culture they are working in are, at best, unstable and in a constant state of change. They have seen and experienced a culture full of disloyalty and broken promises. The world we live in today is very different from the one our parents and grandparents grew up in. And while many things are wonderful about it (technology, travel, diversity, etc.), many things are not, and it is those changes that have greatly shaped today’s highly talented but highly skeptical employee.
In the last few decades, we have seen governments rack up debt, others completely default, political scandals become the norm, disgraced CEOs get huge golden parachutes, layoffs and business closures increase, and “too big to fail” well, fail. All of this has greatly impacted our society’s ability to trust, shattered our belief in authority, and made us question the payoff of being loyal. To understand today’s employees, you need to begin there, because it is much of the reason employees feel less committed and less loyal to employers and corporations.
Building trust today is difficult, and needs to be done slowly and coupled with action and social proof. Now, you can make the argument that your company is trustworthy, or that you as a leader are open and honest with employees. For the most part, you may be right, but honestly, it does not matter, because until employees see it and feel it, trust just does not exist. To really grasp how to fully engage employees, you need to begin by understanding them and the logic of their mistrust. Then take a long, hard, and honest look at yourself and your company. Accept that what you are currently doing to engage your employees, even if you are successful, is probably not going to be enough going forward.
The Reality, the majority of today’s employees no longer believe they can have, or even want, a long-term career with a company. Their goal is not longer a place to retire; instead, the goal is a job, a very different type of job. As leaders, we need to understand that with stability and the promise of a pension off the table, today’s employees are looking for something more. As employers, we cannot honestly offer anyone a job for life, a solid retirement, or a guarantee that our companies will not merge or be sold, so understandably, employees are looking for something else. They want their companies to stand for something, and leadership that is driven to make a difference. Employees want their work to matter, and they want a job and an organization they can believe in.
Now you, as a leader, may think, “That is not all that different from what any of us wanted out of our jobs when we began our careers,” and you would be right. However, with no trust in long-term employment, this “new employee” has placed a much higher value on purpose and ability to learn and grow. In years past, stock options, pensions, or even great benefit plans could convince an employee to forgo job satisfaction and fulfillment. Today, with those options not part of the conversation, employees want something in exchange: the ability to have a voice in their roles, to do work that matters, and to feel fulfilled by their roles. I would argue that when employers learn how to deliver that, they would not only have a stable workforce, but a fully engaged one.
In this author’s opinion, leaders are facing a very different landscape and a very different type of employee when trying to build a workforce today. When you understand the logic, you embrace the changes, and as a leader you will begin to understand the importance of changing your strategy of how to fully engage today’s workforce.
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Motivational Keynote Speaker & Business Growth Expert, Meridith Elliott Powell works with clients to help them instill ownership at every level to ensure profits at every turn. Meridith is the author of several books, including her latest, Winning In The Trust & Value Economy: a professional’s guide to business and sales success. When not keynoting and leading workshops, she looks for inspiration cycling, golfing or hiking her favorite trail. http://meridithelliottpowell.com