Buzz words abound today, especially when discussing the younger workers – millennials and Gen Z. They want job autonomy, to feel engaged and believe they are doing meaningful work. Employee engagement is frequently discussed, but what exactly does the term “meaningful work” mean?
It wasn’t that long ago that millions of people found meaning in work by witnessing the end result of working the production lines in manufacturing plants or producing spreadsheets filled with data. Employees could physically see and touch the results of their efforts day in and day out. Meaningful work was defined mostly in terms of meeting production schedules or producing specific job outcomes, like a balanced spreadsheet. In the age of technology, the results of work are not always so clear, especially for tech workers. You can’t touch a software program that took hours of sitting at a desk to debug, and employees are far removed from landfills filled with discarded electronic equipment that pollutes the environment.
In the early days of unions, they mostly represented plant workers and addressed issues like production goals and working hours. Millennials (Gen Y) and Gen Z are digital natives, and much of their work revolves around tech-based work. It’s interesting to note that young workers aren’t joining unions at the same rate as older workers once did, but there is a glaring similarity between the generations.
Younger workers are protesting their employers work requirements, joining “non-union unions” and informally organizing themselves to complain about things like work schedules and work requirements. The big difference is that younger generations of workers have added “doing meaningful work” to their list of issues.
Millions of baby boomer plant workers were willing to do repetitive production line work or sit at desks for long hours doing repetitive work without regard for whether the work was satisfying. Back in the days of repetitive work, employee engagement practices revolved mostly around compensation, benefits and work schedules. Younger workers, on the other hand, are used to accessing work 24/7, and many benefits are now legally required, with most employers exceeding the minimum requirements. With those issues out of the way in most cases, younger employees are wanting “meaningful work,” making this work characteristic a factor in employee engagement.
The question is: What does “meaningful work” mean? The definition is actually a description of work qualities. Meaningful work is work an employee can connect to an organization’s mission and commitment to core values. Engaging employees in the organization’s purpose requires leaders to communicate the message to all employees at every level. McKinsey points to a survey of global senior executives in which only 38 percent agreed their employees had a good understanding of the organization’s purpose and commitment to beliefs and values. In another survey, 9-out-of-10 American workers didn’t feel excited about their work so don’t contribute their full potential.
Another attribute of meaningful work is work the employee can directly relate to business success. Your employees must believe their work has significance in some way. One of the reasons corporate social responsibility has become so important to reputation and brand is due to the interest of younger generations of workers in helping their employer succeed in ways that contribute to something like economic equality, environmental sustainability, greater inclusion of diverse people and/or community development.
In the 1950s, baby boomers producing products on production lines didn’t worry about things like the impact on the environment or communities of materials sourcing or disposal practices at product end-of-life. Gen Y and Gen Z do care about the impact of business decisions on the quality of life for employees locally and laborers in far-off countries. Younger employees want to know their work results are not harmful to people, whether talking about software programs or an assembly line product, and that their efforts are important to the company’s competitive success.
Meaningful work allows the employee to use innate talents which includes skills but also refers to the ability to apply or share diverse perspectives or experiences. This is becoming critical as the workforce becomes more diverse each year due to changing population demographics. It’s also important because people of different genders, races, ethnicities and disabilities want a voice in the workplace and equal opportunities to succeed by allowing them to take new approaches to work (job autonomy) which can lead to innovation for your business.
Employees are happiest when allowed to bring their whole selves to work. If an employee believes he or she must leave a part of themselves at the door when showing up for work, the work has less meaning. The employee is likely to have a low level of engagement and believe the job cannot contribute to the greater good because it won’t let the employee be an authentic self.
If all of this sounds very psychology based, the reality is technology has freed employees to care more about their job than meeting production goals. People can network online, share diverse perspectives, discuss their work and how it benefits or harms others or the environment and praise or question business practices, work conditions and job requirements. If meaningful work includes letting people bring their whole selves to their jobs, they will bring a much broader view of their jobs to work and how your leaders should behave and communicate. They will ask themselves, “What’s the point of doing my job? Does my manager really care about me?”
The experts agree that each person will describe meaningful work in a different way because meaningfulness is highly personal. How do you, as an employer, engage employees who want recognition for individuality? One answer is communication.
As the survey mentioned earlier demonstrates, you must regularly communicate the higher purpose or mission of your organization to employees. You must also give them learning opportunities because employee training helps people shape their ideas as to how their work impacts the business and others. Plentiful employee-employer two-way feedback opportunities motivate people. The focus is on self-improvement within the broader context of helping your business succeed so that it can continue to have a positive impact on people, communities and the environment. Encourage creativity in work, networking with co-workers and sharing work experiences.
A 2018 survey of 2,285 professionals across 26 industries and at different levels, discussed in the Harvard Business Review article 9 Out of 10 People Are Willing to Earn Less Money to Do more-Meaningful Work, found that employees who believed they were doing meaningful work spent one extra hour per week working and took 2 less days of paid leave, equating to an additional $9,078 in productivity per employee each year. Decades ago, giving people raises helped keep unions out. Today, helping employers discover the meaning of work plays a bigger role in discouraging unionizing. Things have really changed in the workplace!
The same survey found that employees who have social support and a sense of shared purpose have a 30 percent greater likelihood of getting a raise because they are more productive and satisfied. Here is where the past and present meet. The impact of a shared sense of purpose is felt by employees holding all types of jobs, including retail workers and assembly line workers. People who believe they are doing meaningful work are much more likely to succeed. Unions become impediments and not enablers when employees are engaged.
Enabling people to do meaningful work is crucial to employee engagement. Everyone will find meaningfulness in a different way, so your goal is to help them find it and share it with others. Engage your employees in the company’s higher purpose and unions are not likely to get a foothold. An engaged and satisfied employee is not going to choose a union over their feelings of job satisfaction and engagement in the workplace.
Recruiting and hiring the best talent is only the beginning. After a talented employee is hired, many businesses and companies forget that employee retention is an equally important part of the equation. Here are some of the most effective tips and strategies to improve employee retention, and keep top performers from taking their skills and talents somewhere else.
Salary is not the only – or even the most important factor in employee retention and satisfaction. Retaining talented professionals can be challenging for a number of reasons, from resignations due to more competitive offers, to personal and “culture fit” issues. If your company is suffering from high turnover and low retention rates, it may be time to re-examine your policies and take an in depth look at the company’s culture and workplace practices.
Here are some of the most common factors that can cause good employees to jump ship:
Lack of Flexibility
In addition to feeling unfulfilled or bored by the work and lacking a clear path for growth and professional development, many professionals consider greater flexibility (and remote working options) as an essential component of their employment with a firm. Rigid management hierarchies, structures, and schedules are increasingly becoming a thing of the past, particularly in highly skilled and in demand sectors.
Stress and Burnout
Depending on your industry, long hours, stress, and performance pressure may just be the nature of the beast. But according to a survey of over 10,000 tech workers, high stress and burnout rates at some of the world’s top companies hovered over 60% of survey respondents.
Although there is no “one size fits all” solution, addressing issues like workplace stress and employee satisfaction are important in order to identify where your company may be falling short, before a “brain drain” sets in. Addressing culture issues before they become ossified, and putting the right people in the right roles are great places to start.According to Fast Company, additional factors that can help to retain and build quality employees and leaders include:
1. Prioritize open communication and clarity of purpose between management and their departments.
2. Don’t take employees for granted – recognition is an important factor in everything from boosting morale to improving motivation.
3. Encourage feedback – from both managers and employees.
4. Provide real opportunities for growth and advancement.
5. Offer competitive compensation and incentives. Taking your work force’s “temperature” and asking for feedback is a great place to start and to identify area’s in which your policies may be falling short.
Bullying was never just a high school problem. Invariably, abusive conduct grows up and becomes a problem for employers.
While California is still the only state that requires companies to address abusive conduct, creating a respectful workplace should be a priority for every company. That means providing training not just on the effects of abusive conduct, but on the kind of culture and environment that allows bullying behavior to happen.
It’s important that your HR team knows the signs of abusive conduct – a decrease in job satisfaction, lower morale, higher absenteeism, and lost productivity. However, knowing what actions to take to address bullying behavior can be much more difficult.
Abusive conduct is only one type of harassment of which your employees must be aware. California’s AB2053 refers to this kind of behavior as “malicious conduct,” that “a reasonable person would find hostile, offensive, and unrelated to an employer’s legitimate business interests.” Similar to sexual harassment, a single act is not abusive “unless especially severe and egregious.” It is the severity and pervasiveness of bullying behavior that make it so important to address. Here’s what that can look like:
With a definition like that – broad, and leaving a lot of room for interpretation – your harassment prevention training can easily come under scrutiny, should an employee file charges for harassment or workplace bullying. It’s vital that you train employees and supervisors on the AB2053, and that you start doing so now.
Projections’ landmark harassment training has been keeping companies in full compliance with all training requirements since 1999. “The Respectful Workplace” eLearning is now available in versions for both managers and employees. This training meets your company’s needs in every state in which you operate and provides the consistency your company needs. More information on harassment prevention training can be found here.
No matter what products you sell or what industry you’re in, harassment prevention must be a top priority in keeping both your company and your employees safe. What works and what you need to include in that training is changing rapidly. Here is what you need to know regarding harassment prevention training now.
The movement known as #metoo began in October of 2017, and the repercussions are still being felt. During the last several years, both individuals and companies have become more aware of harassment and reporting has increased dramatically both in and out of the workplace. People are more aware of the many specific forms of harassment. Protected classes include including sex, gender, disability, race, religion and age.
According to SHRM, emphasis on workplace harassment training should focus on prevention. As a manager or human resources professional, it’s your responsibility to take the necessary steps to provide the most effective harassment prevention training program possible. It’s crucial to train employees effectively to prevent any type of harassment from happening. If harassment does occur, it’s necessary that employees at all levels understand what to do and take the correct course of action.
The New Jersey Business and Industry Association reports that a Gallup poll shows both men and women take sexual harassment much more seriously than they did 20 years ago. The majority of individuals now see it as a major problem. Your employees are more sensitive to what is and isn’t considered appropriate behavior.
Along with increased sensitivity and changed perspectives, however, there has also been more confusion. Many employees are often uncertain regarding what exactly constitutes harassment, what type of language or behavior is acceptable in the workplace and exactly how to handle harassment accusations. This makes an effective training program more important than ever.
It’s necessary to understand what the different requirements are in each state and how employers with employees in multiple locations can comply. Right now there are only five states that mandate or have requirements regarding sexual harassment training. California, Connecticut, New York, Delaware, Illinois and Maine have passed a variety of legislation for training employees. If your company maintains facilities in both California and Illinois, for example, all employees should be trained according to the most stringent standards.
This means you’ll stay compliant while keeping all employees on the same page. Employers also need to go beyond basic legal compliance. It’s necessary to cultivate a culture of respect in the workplace. Training shouldn’t just focus on a checklist of unacceptable behaviors. It should focus on building civility and an environment where employees feel comfortable speaking out.
It’s imperative that training addresses the recent shifts in culture. It’s not only important to understand culture in our society, but to understand and change the culture in the workplace. This means that management must take a proactive approach by educating current employees and immediately training all new hires. Workforce states that training must involve much more than simply watching a video and checking a to-do box. You must create a culture at the highest levels of management and effective training provided on a fairly regular basis.
Finally, whatever training method you use, make sure there is an evaluation process in place. You need to understand what’s working and what’s not so modifications can be made for future training. Harassment prevention training is critically important to not only prevent costly lawsuits and maintain a company’s reputation, but for building a respectful and positive work environment.
With strong belief that every company can become an employer of choice, the team at Projections has been helping companies build better leaders and improve employee relations for over 4 decades. The Respectful Workplace, is a powerful and effective eLearning program designed to not only prevent harassment but help companies create a respectful and inclusive workplace.
For decades, companies have been working to protect themselves from liability by offering harassment prevention training in the workplace. Multiple states now mandate training on the topic. Many even spell out what must be covered, who must receive the training, and how long the training should be. But if your goal is simply to be in compliance with the legal requirements, you may be missing the point.
To create behavioral change at a cultural level, harassment prevention training has to be delivered in a variety of ways. Learners need to hear and see not only what is and is not acceptable, but answer questions and make decisions about what they should do. A well-planned and executed harassment prevention program creates an inclusive workplace where everyone not only feels welcome, but is able to be their most productive, most engaged self.
Many currently available harassment awareness programs are brief and leave the employee with little to think about beyond contact information for HR. True harassment prevention requires a broader cultural shift to have a lasting impact on the workplace. Effective training needs to emphasize that it’s the responsibility of all employees to take an active role in not only preventing harassment in all its forms, but in creating a respectful workplace.
It’s your company’s job to make sure every team member understands that maintaining a respectful workplace is their responsibility. It’s more than a legal issue to be avoided; it’s about feeling empowered to take action when they are confronted with bad behavior at any level. Effective training programs work when every employee feels invested in promoting a respectful workplace. But how do you do this? And why haven’t past programs been able to make it happen?
If your harassment prevention training is led by members of your HR team in a small group or “town hall” setting, you may already be setting your efforts up for failure. When employees don’t feel safe within that space, they can easily shut down and fail to internalize the information being provided. If there’s a perception that HR exists to protect the rights of the company over individual employees, then the training will be viewed as self-serving and will never succeed in creating behavioral change.
To get around this perception, some companies choose to bring in live trainers to teach harassment prevention. This sort of environment provides a neutral third party, which can add value – but the training can also be “dismissed” for the same reason if company representatives don’t seem to be actively endorsing it.
Purchasing harassment prevention training videos can be an excellent option, blending the endorsement of the company with the “expert” knowledge of a third party. But if the legal requirements for harassment training change in the states in which your company operates, you’ll need updates to those videos, quickly.
Today, interactive e-learning can provide consistent, relevant messaging that can boost engagement, reinforcing the needs of adult learners
With a diverse workforce, many companies today find it increasingly difficult to create memorable and actionable training programs for employees and managers. Creating two entirely separate programs – one for line employees and one for supervisors – is costly and time-consuming.
Some states mandate additional training for leaders and knowing what to teach each group can be difficult. Many companies choose to adopt a “one size fits all” approach and use the same content regardless of the audience, but training for supervisors, such as how to address, report or investigate a harassment claim can be inappropriate for frontline staff.
The first step in creating effective harassment prevention training for today’s workforce is recognizing that your supervisors and leaders need a targeted curriculum that addresses the specific challenges they may encounter. Generic content that merely teaches the legal aspects of harassment is not going to engage that audience or teach them actionable skills that empower them.
Different states in which you operate may have specific requirements regarding the content you must provide. For example, in California, companies must also address workplace bullying (Abusive Conduct). Make sure your employee curriculum touches on each of these requirements, and make them engaging and interactive. Try role-playing scenarios, depicting common office interactions. Make sure your both employees and leaders have an opportunity to practice the skills they learn, as reinforcement of the concepts happens not only when they see something – but when they DO something.
Remember that it’s not just about victims and perpetrators. Your company must empower bystanders and victims of third-party harassment to understand even nuanced situations and take the right action. Creating effective harassment prevention training today isn’t just about staying within the letter of the law – it’s about protecting every employee and giving them the environment they need to be productive and meet the company’s goals.
Putting together a harassment prevention training program requires a delicate balance. Employees must be made aware of the law and their responsibilities in the workplace. In the past, some have argued that these programs emphasized employment law so heavily that they taught people how to “get away with” harassing behavior and not get fired. Some studies have even shown that the wrong training can make harassment issues worse.
The tone and language of your training must include tolerance and respect for all coworkers, regardless of any protected class. Your harassment prevention will need to acknowledge that harassment occurs despite everyone’s best efforts and that your company is committed to developing processes to address issues.
Above all else, your harassment prevention program must openly demonstrate what all types of harassment look like and what a hostile working environment feels like. Only through genuine understanding of these challenges can employees and managers hope to make lasting changes.
As your company begins to work toward creating a respectful workplace, you may begin to see changes. People may be more open to one another’s ideas. They may become more productive. Fewer reports to HR may mean more time spent on taking care of all employees. Your respectful workplace can even create greater trust between employees and management, as everyone understands their roles in preventing harassment.