We have not talked about employee happiness, engagement, at least not in the capacity we do now, for 150+ years and now wherever I turn there is an article, a survey or a report about it. When did we start caring about employees so much? And why?
I see 4 big reasons I have witnesses in my life time as a member of Gen X generation:
1. The stability and security of jobs is no longer there. Many of our baby boomer parents told us the best path to “success” (which with this old mind set definition was also believed to bring happiness) was to get a good education, find a good job at a good company, work very hard, stay there for 30+ years and retire. Well most of us listened to this advice but it did not work. Following this formula did not bring stability nor success to many. We found ourselves getting laid off even if we worked very hard. So we started to question what is no longer working in the organizations which led to more conversations about employee engagement, leadership styles and what makes companies successful.
2. Millennials are adapting to the new world they live in. While all above changes were happening millenials, our children, were watching. They saw even if we worked hard, were responsible and tolerated stuff in the workplace, it did not always work in our favor. So they decided to look for more purpose in their lives and in their work. They were not going to sacrifice everything in their personal lives to find a good job to pay the bills. There was no guarantee or loyalty expected from many companies. So they decided early to have a good mix of life and work every single day as the Deloitte Millennial Survey 2016 shows; it is the #1 thing they want in life. If that did not happen they left their jobs. Companies started to face a huge problem in retaining their employees which also led to big cost. So some companies had to look into this even if they did not want to. There was no way to keep employing Baby boomers and Gen X either to fill their open positions; millennials make up the biggest population in the workplace now (36% which will be %75 by 2025) and it will only grow so there is no way to ignore them. There is a big need to understand what they want and value.
3. Industrial age mindset does not align with this century anymore. “No one can stand the employment model any longer.” says Gustava Tanaka in his articlewhois a Brazilian author and entrepreneur. People are a lot more knowledgeable with everything at their finger tips and you cannot assume that “people are lazy and dumb for the most part” as Taylorism did. Chuck Blakeman’s book Why Employees are Always a Bad Idea explains this topic so well. We are over that cycle and status quo is being interrupted. Many Gen X and millennials refuse to be part of the system that makes you a slave to your job no matter how horrible it is so that you can pay your big mortgage bill. They are OK not to go into long term commitments if that means they will have more freedom to make better choices for themselves and their families.
4. We also have watched a lot of corrupted companies ruining people’s lives and life time savings; those people were too close to us to ignore. We see still to this day witness bad decisions being given at the top of the company (like the recent Wells Fargo case) that has a negative impact on both employees and clients which reminds us something needs to change. It is becoming more and more obvious that organizations need to be led differently. I appreciate and congratulate all other companies that always try to do the right thing, take good care of all their stakeholders and set a good example for others showing it is possible to have a humanistic environment and make profit. (W. L. Gore -read about their culture here , Zappos, Wegmans and many more).
So this is at least some of the reasons and changes I witnessed working for Corporate America for 20+ years and then having my own business. There is a certainly a movement taking place to understand what was wrong in the first place with many organizations and then look for ways to change and improve all the broken mindset, processes and systems. That is why I expect to hear and read more about employee engagement, better cultures in the workplace, leadership styles and showing up as a “whole person” where we cannot be divided between our work and personal life.
We should be all very excited that this change is happening now and that we can all be part of this movement if we believe in it. I am grateful for all the trailblazers and thought leaders that started the movement and to be part of this interruption that is happening to create workplaces where employees, clients, and the communities can all be more willingly engaged and more fulfilled.