How many of your employees are disengaged?

The way we think about work is changing and to move with this curve management needs a new lens through which to view workers

Before you discount the value of accommodating workers’ new attitudes toward work, remember that we no longer have the luxury of an employer’s market. Employees are now well and truly in the driver’s seat, and we had better hand them the keys.

Four areas of the greatest concern to those looking to stay with their company include: developmental opportunities, ongoing feedback and coaching from managers, collaboration among employees, and being recognised and rewarded for high performance.

Consider why these things may have grown in importance for up-and-coming generations. Consider the world they will inhabit. Barring a cataclysm, the population will continue to grow and competition for resources and work will as well. Throw the effects of climate change into the mix and they’ll see even more competition for organic resources. The rural-to-urban trend will probably leave fewer jobs in outlying areas and create more in cities, where dense populations will vie for them, yet employers still may not be able to fully staff up from local pools. Travel or remote work will increase. And since the employment scene will be volatile job stability will degrade even further from the 30 years and a gold watch standard than it already has.

That’s not enough? At the same time, according to the Human Mortality Database, people will be living longer lives. Half of all babies born from this point onward in developed nations are expected to live past 100. Yet we continue to pursue our working lives as our parents and grandparents have done – enjoying a single major career path to a certain age (say 62 or 65) and then retiring on money previously saved and invested. How many people in current and future generations will be able to afford retirement barely halfway through their lives? How many will be forced to change jobs or careers many times and start over building skills, income, and future plans?

In answer, today’s workers want to be able to appeal to a variety of employers in more than one niche. So they seek to associate with companies that provide continuing education, training, and support for the work they are doing – real opportunities to push themselves and develop new skills and interests. Given the future of 60-plus years in the workplace these younger generations face, I don’t blame them!

Employees want the right to guide their working lives into new territory. They’re serious about it. If they’re going to stay with you as an ambassador of your brand as opposed to a disengaged ‘hostage’ they want the tools to perform a cost-benefit analysis of how their investment in you is paying off. Think about how you can answer the big questions that will help them plot the return on their investment, such as:

  • How much and how fast can I learn?
  • How challenging, rewarding and exciting does the work remain?
  • How much of my time is spent doing great and important work?
  • How much personal success do I achieve – however I choose to define success?
  • How easy is it for me to achieve what you ask?
  • How easy is it to achieve what I want?
  • How well, or poorly, do you use the assets I provide?

These are not new human desires. They are simply louder iterations of fundamental needs that are intrinsic to our nature. We hear plenty of business leaders lauding the work of Daniel Pink, a business writer and thinker who determined that autonomy, mastery, and purpose are all elements of fulfilment that motivate and engage workers. And we want to think that our organisations provide opportunities in those areas. But how accessible are they? How easy is it for our employees to structure their work days (autonomy), excel in their roles (mastery), and contribute to something larger than just quotas and deadlines (purpose)? In the midst of those pursuits how easy do we make it for them to do their jobs really well and do their very best work?

Bruce Morton is a workforce design and talent acquisition expert and author of Redesigning the Way Work Works