Employee engagement in a democratised workplace

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Traditional hierarchies are being eroded. The rise of individualism has been steadily growing and evolving. Generation Y, often painted by the media as educated and ambitious, has heralded this new age.

These digital natives who grew up in the dawn of new smart technologies and the internet have the ability to connect with millions around the globe, yet remain physically alone, which has also facilitated greater independence within job roles. Generation Y is more empowered by the digital age to take ownership and direction for their learning and development.

Simultaneously, the digital era has given rise to new and niche job roles that didn’t exist a decade ago, such as data scientists and unstructured data analysts. New web languages are rendering some older computer programming languages irrelevant. And this change is happening at an increasingly fast pace. 

What does this mean for the future of the workforce? To some extent, skills possessed by the more senior or accomplished staff will become outdated. Generation Y, who seek recognition and independence, are coming to the table with new skills that businesses desperately need to innovate and remain competitive. Combined, this is creating a flatter organisational structure. The top-down management model has long been in place, but a more autonomous system will turn this on its head and will give employees greater ability to manage themselves. Many call this the democratisation of the workforce. 

But how do you keep employees engaged in a flatter organisational structure without the ability to scale multiple career rungs? Learning and development (L&D) plans form a cornerstone for enabling engagement but how do you craft these when Generation Y is more likely than any other to take L&D and career paths into their own hands? 

The cornerstone of employee engagement: contribution and recognition 

At the core of employee engagement is the notion that people are driven by a desire to contribute. While most of us don't spend our time curing cancer or building world peace, we still want to attach value to what we do. Individuals who can share in the greater vision of what they're doing and understand how their efforts contribute to the success of the organisation tend to be engaged and motivated. 

In a more democratic workplace, with a flatter hierarchy and more niche job roles, individuals are more likely to volunteer for work to which they think they can add value. The result is that individuals play to their core strengths, rather than stretching themselves too thinly or conforming to prescribed roles that may not maximise their potential.

Still, it’s important to have processes in place to track these contributions so that individual and team successes can be recognised and rewarded. No one is likely to be happy in an environment in which credit is not given where it's due. 

Building an open and honest dialogue 

HR needs to lead the charge in building an open and honest dialogue with employees about what they are willing to commit to with regards to development and what learning paths they would like to follow. Often Generation Y will have more insight about the ‘next big thing’ or technology that their company really needs to embrace. In turning this insight into training for all employees, they will have a sense that their new skills can add business value. 

Additionally, by understanding core strengths and building a tailored learning programme around these for employees, real contributions are recognised within the business. These contributions can and should be planned during personal development catch-ups with line managers and documented. This helps the employee feel like they are growing in their job roles – the modern day equivalent of climbing a ‘rung’ or two.

Neal Bruce is SVP, Product Strategy at Lumesse

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