Many organisations have a multi-generational workforce and leaders always have the task of managing the diversity that comes along. However, our current times are pretty dynamic, the views and needs of people in their 20s are vastly different from those in their mid-30s and 40s. Hence, the task of the leaders is more complex than they were ever before. They have to make the workplace interesting, exciting and fulfilling for everyone who works there. To make matters a bit more complex, the workforce has a lot more transience now. We have a substantial number of interns, temp workers, part-timers, gig-workers and freelancers other than the full-time staff. Moreover, the retention rates of full-time staff are coming down gradually over time. Leaders have a formidable challenge. What can they do?
We know that many people are increasingly focused on living in the present; at the same time, they care about the purpose of the organisation they associate with and the meaning of the work they do. The question is how important is seeing the big picture and the long term vis-à-vis the focus on short-term gains and the experience in the here and now. Gen-Z and Gen-Y like the older generation care about both. Should the leaders invest their energies in building a team and building an organisation equally on short term aspects as well as long-term ones? This debate is not settled yet. However, it is clear that people care about both the stories and we have to find a balance between the two.
Many organisations find it hard to craft and consistently deliver the message around the organisation’s mission, vision and values. Building the organisation’s processes in alignment with the vision and values is a challenge in itself. And the leaders must live the values consistently. The organisation has to see this actively and clearly so that everyone feels proud of being on a ship that is architected well and strong enough to withstand the vagaries of the environment from time to time and the storms along the way. This is at the core of employee engagement.
Crafting the engagement practices for tomorrow’s organisation is more complex than ever before because of the rapid transformation taking place in the socio-economic fabric of our society. The preferences, aspirations and approach of employees in different social cohorts are widely varying. Hence, our practices have to appeal to all cohorts – it’s a tall order.
All of us expect the right salaries, benefits, recognition, the culture of treating people with fairness and respect, learning opportunities, adequate freedom and growth prospects at work. It is hard to define how much is enough; there is no limit to increasing these factors. The leaders have to benchmark their practices against the industry standards and make sure that the right levels of hygiene factors are provided. We know that the absence of hygiene factors brings down the engagement level and reduces productivity while increasing these factors beyond a limit does not increase the engagement quotient. One has to find the optimum zone and operate within those.
Many organisations and HR folks think of employee engagement practices as fun at work and the beyond-work programmes such as sports and games, music and dance clubs, talent hunt activities, cultural shows, the celebration of various festivities, annual day and the like. Some companies focus on employee benefits such as cafeteria, food, transport, posh office space, health and fitness, flexible leaves and work hours, gifts on special occasions and the like. In reality, these become a part of life and the default norm in the company. These do not influence their employees to walk the extra mile to bring laurels to the organisation.
We have to focus on developing and aligning their behaviours at work to the set of desired patterns and benchmarks. These help us establish the right environment in our organisation. Our aspirations get co-owned; we involve our rank and file in developing the right strategic plans for the company and understanding the priorities better. We establish a culture of collaboration and ownership within the company. The tools, systems and processes we define in the company get absorbed better by the employees and they use them well. That’s the real test of engagement!
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