Observations by Anne Bahr Thompson
More and more, employers are recognizing that HR must shift its orientation from human resources to human relationships. Since the oldest Millennials entered the workplace around the turn of the new millennium, employee engagement and satisfaction has jetted to the top of executive agendas. Putting people first is the key to a winning brand.
Over our three years of CultureQ® research into Brand Leadership, Good Citizenship and Favorite Brands, participants ranked treating employees well and fairly as the number-one characteristic of a good corporate citizen, and the number-two trait of a leadership brand (behind the characteristic “produces reliable, durable products and services and offers value for quality”).
A 2014 CultureQ study into how people define their ideal employer revealed that Millennials (the oldest of whom are now in their mid-30’s), more so than Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, seek a friendly, supportive work environment; opportunities for social engagement; a commitment to volunteerism; good values; and a leadership reputation. Deloitte, PWC, McKinsey and many others have conducted studies that have uncovered similar insights. And when the Supreme Court decision for Obergefell v. Hodges made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states in the U.S. in 2015, numerous media pundits proclaimed that embracing the rainbow was smart business because Millennials were a more diverse and inclusive generation.
Millennials are not the first generation looking to be treated well and fairly by their employers. Companies have contemplated ways to cultivate a happy workforce for decades, if not centuries. Indeed, since the height of the Industrial Revolution employers have equated employee benefits with the output of higher-quality products and better employee recruitment and retention. Post-World War II, companies offered perks as they sought to recruit and retain the most talented workers from a limited pool. But as the labor force grew, workers became more dispensable and when companies let middle management go in the 1970s, the needs of employees shifted to a secondary concern with distributing earnings to shareholders being the greater priority. Since Millennials entered the workforce, the labor force has grown, not shrunk, in size. So why are businesses so concerned about keeping Millennial employees happy?
Some say it’s because the talent pool has shrunk. Others note employee engagement is part of the shift to a greater stakeholder orientation. And Gallup estimates indicate there’s also a big financial incentive. Millennials, who are known for leaving jobs when they’re dissatisfied, are costing the US economy $30.5 billion in turnover annually. More so than prior generations, Millennials are focused on their own priorities rather than keeping a job. Gallup’s 2016 Study, How Millennials Want to Work and Live, reported that 21%, more than three times the number of non-Millennials, say they’ve changed jobs within the past year. Similarly, a Jobvite study found that 42 percent of Millennials change jobs every one to three years.
CultureQ research has demonstrated that satisfying employee-employer relationships are rooted in a set of specific behaviors that span across the ME-to-WE continuum of Brand Citizenship®. The best employers, like the best brands overall, help us achieve our personal ME goals and dreams and simultaneously invite us to co-create solutions to our generalized WE worries about communities we care about, the planet, and society at large. Numerous big and small ways that employers can enrich the lives of employees and the things they care about the most sit in between.
It’s no longer enough to simply satisfy an employee’s basic professional development—companies must also act more broadly: recognizing people’s self-actualization needs, and advocating for and working on social and environmental challenges that their workforce cares about. Based on CultureQ research, here are some actions you can take along the ME-to-WE continuum to cultivate happier employees and how you can gear them to what Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials are are each looking for from their employers.
1. Trust—Don’t let me down. Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials all want to work for companies they trust, that live up to their promises and delivers ME value to them. Not surprisingly, for participants in CultureQ research, fair salary and benefits are the starting point for any company looking to create a better employer-employee relationship based on trust. Policies ensuring people’s efforts are regularly acknowledged and extra praise for a job well done are essential to fostering a more trusting, positive, healthy, relaxed and less-stressed work environment—for all generations.
2. Enrichment—Enhance daily life. Life balance rated high with our research participants, but the different generations define what’s MINE differently. Baby Boomers look for recognition of their individual strengths and skills, and accountability that fosters pride in a job well done. Gen Xers seek friendly employers that help them to achieve their goals by simplifying their personal chores and making routine tasks easier to accomplish. And Millennials yearn for employers that focus on their personal development and well-being: supportive managers, not faceless bosses; rewards for good ideas; egalitarian organizational structures; fully funded professional and personal development programs; and project assignments that vary their work experience.
3. Responsibility—Behave fairly. This is all about what’s OURS. Everyone today demands business to treat others fairly, behave ethically and be proactive in their practices and policies—toward their employees, suppliers, business partners and other stakeholders. This isn’t about being perfect. Indeed, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials all respect and become fans of employers that exhibit human traits and are honest about their shortcomings, provided they also prove they are making a concerted effort to improve.
4. Community—Connect me. The companies we work for are badges of sorts, signifying who we are and what we’re about to our family, friends and the people we meet. The sense of “belongingness” and US comes from working in a culture that values us and mirrors our values. While Baby Boomers seek to work alongside teammates and Gen Xers look to form friendships with coworkers, Millennials aspire to spend time—physically and virtually—in a cohesive, supportive and enriching environment. They endeavor to connect with friends who share their values and interests, not just career stages, job functions or organizational departments.
5. Contribution—Make me bigger than I am. More and more, people are demanding to work for companies that contribute to communities they care about and help solve society’s worries, provided that they do so without overtly political intent. They yearn for employers to advocate for and focus on issues that matter most to them. With trust in government to solve society’s challenges, let alone our personal problems, low, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials all look to the companies they work for in same way they look to the brands they buy—to help them achieve their ideals and better our cohesion as WE.
Rather than one-off social responsibility initiatives or even cause marketing campaigns for employees, consider how you can support a sense of shared responsibility across your business through communications and activities that engage employees in more meaning, every day. When you support your employees across the ME-to-WE continuum you enable them to achieve their full potential based on mutual understanding, mutual respect, mutual reliance, and mutual benefit. And you create a big win-win-win for employees, employers and society!