Information is not the problem. There is no shortage of information on how people in the workplace feel about their jobs and their work experiences. One recent study of nearly 3000 US workers produced by Walker Information says it all and it’s current.
Only about half of workers surveyed (53%) are willing to recommend their companies to others seeking a job; only a similar number (54%) feel their organizations treat their employees fairly; 48% don’t perceive as much of a sense of achievement as they would like to have in their work; and less that half – 45% – believe their organizations care about developing people for long term careers.
Are they wrong? Too self-centered and expect too much? I don’t think so and I don’t believe the message comes as much of a surprise either. Each generation coming into the workforce brings with it the higher expectations that evolve from greater knowledge and progressively more open communication. As the members of each new generation come on board, employers use more innovative perks to attract and infatuate the best. It doesn’t take very long, however, for them to realize that these trappings of career success – concierges, dry cleaning, personal services or whatever – don’t make them any happier, more satisfied, or more secure in their careers.
And so the cycle repeats itself. Many employers buy bodies to do the work but are stopping short of winning the hearts that are needed to do it exceptionally well. Some things, and commitment and loyalty are at the top of the list, just can’t be bought despite repeated efforts to do so.
Think about what the statistics quoted above really mean. People seem to be saying, “Fair treatment is just an on and off thing, it doesn’t matter to you whether or not I actually like doing what I’m doing and feel a real sense of contribution, and you’re not interested in developing me for a career in the company. So why do you expect me to show a degree of loyalty and concern that you don’t offer me in return?”
What today’s workers want most is just what preceding generations have wanted: to feel a sense of personal accomplishment and contribution. Sure, we know there are many jobs that will never offer their incumbents these desired psychic rewards and, realistically speaking, there are many people in the workforce who will never be fully engaged no matter what is offered in exchange.
But what about those people who do want personal growth opportunities and the chance to build a career? Are we prepared to make the greater effort that will be necessary to fit them into jobs that are motivating for them and which give them the sense of accomplishment they are seeking? Are we prepared to offer the quality of training they require or the quality of management they will need to excel and develop their abilities?
Or, are we going to recycle the same mistakes of the last fifty years and try to buy employee commitment with the modern day corporate equivalent of trinkets? I hope not, because in the coming years I fear that our North American economy is going to be in for the fight of its life. As our technological advantage decreases, if we want to maintain our living standards, we will have to find a way to unleash the motivation and commitment of our workforce.
There is a starting-point for a solution, which is neither faddish nor particularly complex. It involves two steps. Step one is revisiting Frederick Herzberg. We have to continue to strive to enrich jobs, which will allow people to work to their potential. Step two is recognizing that, in many organizations, selection, which is marginally better than random, can be greatly improved, and that the accurate matching of people and jobs is a critical and pivotal process.