There is so much talk today about building better relationships and connections between the generations. As leaders and employers, we are told that we need to do more to adapt to the millennial generation, we need to ensure that our work environments can support the hard driving work ethic of a baby boomer, all while still respecting the need for work life balance of Gen X. But I have to wonder, every time I learn more about the “issues” and challenges of getting these generations to work together, and to fully engage in our companies, is this really a generational issue? I mean, yes I understand we were all born at different times and we are influenced by that, but are we really all that different? And if we are can you as an employer truly build a work environment that makes everyone happy?
In the humble opinion of this business coach, the issues of teamwork, employee engagement and increasing workplace innovation don’t lie in our generational differences or issues, and they cannot be solved by getting better educated and building more programs around generational communication. To truly attract, retain and fully engage today’s workforce, you need to understand today’s economy and the ripple effect of change that has created. This new economy has changed our society, our customers, our competition, and all of that has impacted and changed our employees. And if your goal is to create a workplace where your employees are fully engaged, and ready to step to the plate and take ownership you need to begin there.
Today’s employees, just like those that have gone before in every generation, are smart and innovative, but unlike their predecessors the economic environment and business culture they are working in is, at best, unstable, and in a constant state of change. They have seen and experienced a culture full of lack of loyalty and broken promises. The world we live in today is very different from the one our father’s, mothers 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 skeptical employee – no matter their generation.
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 closings increase, and “too big to fail” well.. fail. All of this has, and understandably, greatly impacted our society’s ability to trust and 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 for how employees feel regarding commitment to and loyalty for employers and corporations.
Trust today is hard one, and can only be built when done slowly, coupled with action and social proof. Now, you can make the argument that your company is not like that, or that you as a leader treat your employees differently, and for the most part you may be right, but honestly it does not matter, because until employees see it, feel it, for us it 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. Begin there, then you need to take a long, hard, and honest look at yourself and your company, and you need to realize that what you are currently doing, even if you are successful it is probably not enough.
And the reality is, for the most part, today’s employees no longer believe they can have or that they even want a long term career with a company. They are no longer looking for a place to retire, instead they are looking for 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 to take their place. As employers we can no longer guarantee anyone a job for life, a solid retirement or that our companies will not be sold, so understandably employees want something else, something different. They want their companies to be driven to make a difference, they want their work to matter, and they want a job and an organization they can believe in and be proud of.
Now you, as a leader, may think that is not all that different from what any of us want out of our jobs or what we wanted 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 larger value on sense of 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 not part of the conversation, employees want something different, more ability to have a voice in their roles, to do work that matters, and to feel fulfilled by their roles. I argue, when employers learn how to deliver that, they will not only have a stable workforce, they will have a fully engaged one.
Today’s leaders are facing a very different landscape and a very different type of employee when trying to build a workforce. While yes they have the most diverse and multi-generational workforce in history (Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation Xers, and Millennials), all of your workers want the same thing, to be part of something bigger, to do work that matters and to know that you, as a leader care about them.
While all the generations may want the same thing, they are somewhat different in their life perspective, experience and expectations. We are shaped by the generation we grew up in, what was happening and expected in society, and the social norms of success, family and education. As leaders it is important to get a closer look at each generation and their views on work ethic, career and loyalty.
So how do you attract, retain and fully engage today’s employees across generations?
- Focus on Value – before you hire anyone, or bring on new members of your team, you need to understand what and whom you are looking for, who is the right fit. And the right fit has far more to do with a person’s values then with their age. Just like you have customers that are the right fit for your company, you have employees that are like that too, and that right fit has everything to do with shared values.
- Create Purpose – people, despite their generation, need to know their work matters, and that they are contributing to something and making a difference. To attract, retain and fully engage employees in your organization you need to share your vision, create clarity of their role in helping you achieve it, and together you create purpose for the work you do and the goals you achieve.
- Provide Voice – in today’s busy and over connected world, people want to be heard and to know they matter. We as employers have an amazing opportunity to do that when we give our employees voice. In other words we provide opportunities for them to share their thoughts and ideas, and get involved in our organizations.
- Develop Community – no matter your age, your generation, or your background, connection is critical to success. As employers, we need to understand people are far more motivated by the people that they work with, than the job that they do. The more we do to create a sense of community, and belonging in our organizations the more committed our employees will be.
So yes, I do agree, it is important to learn about each other and understand the generations, I just believe that at the end of the day, we are all human beings, who value relationships and want to do work that matters. If as an employer you focus there, you are going to become a talent magnet, and an organization that the best, the brightest and the most engaged employees want to work!
Motivational Keynote Speaker & Business Growth Expert, Meridith ElliottPowell, works with clients to help them instill ownership at every level to ensure profits at every turn. Click here for 3 Sure Fire Tips To Get Your Team To Instill Ownership At Every Level, To Get Profits At Every Turn! Meridith is the author of several books, including her latest, Winning In The Trust & Value Economy: a professionals guide to business and sales success. When not keynoting and leading workshops, she looks for inspiration cycling, golfing or hiking her favorite trail. https://meridithelliottpowell.com
*photo courtesy Ambro/freedigitalphotos.net