10 January 2011
By Lindsay Hutter, US Director, Change & Internal Communications
Employer/employee relationships will continue to undergo challenge and change like never before. Economic pressures are not abating, and so will continue to put some very difficult questions in front of companies about their overall cost models and their labor costs.
At the same time businesses are facing these pressures, a growing percentage of their workforce—namely, the Millennials—will continue to be less content than ever to accept salary freezes and benefits reductions and be more expectant of career advancements far more quickly than their parents and grandparents. As the third generation successors to the “sacrifice for country and company” servicemen and servicewomen of WWII, Millennials will continue to demonstrate an uninhibited pursuit of creating their own career ladders and seek to impose an entirely new set of expectations on today’s employers. In addition, the Millennials’ large appetite for transparency—more than double the need of other generations—will continue to grow.
The most fundamental implication of these trends is that a one-size-fits-all model cannot carry the weight of responding to markedly different generations in the workplace. What that means practically is that organizations will need to address their employees the same way they do their customers—recognizing that there are different needs, career desires and motivators across their employee populations and thoughtfully and collaboratively evolve to a model that serves the company’s mission and talent needs.
Smart organizations will look beyond tweaks and seize the moment as one to reinvent their employee engagement model to address new workplace and societal realities. A starting place is the way companies inform and engage employees about the need for change. Fresh approaches to inviting employees to contribute to the design as well as the execution of change will create a sustainable employer/employee relationship model for a more challenged economy, which seems to be what the future holds. Old approaches of cutting budgets and waiting for the economy to turn will only entrench an old way of employee engagement into company cultures and leave businesses ill-prepared for the future and uninspiring for their employees.
It’s also vital that companies address Millennials’ growing desire for transparency. Companies will need to be more open about change to avoid delivering an unintended invitation to their younger workers to seek out the truth they feel is missing in company messaging.
In the race for young talent and especially young talent that’s less expensive than “old talent,” companies will have to be careful not to be too solicitous of Millennials nor too quick to lose the wisdom of older talent. Multiple generations in the workplace is a challenge to manage and lead. But for companies that take time to think of this diversity as a symphony and lead these generations like a maestro that recognizes each instrument’s gifts, the rewards will make work more fascinating and the company’s performance more successful.