‘Human resources’ or ‘human relationships’ – which HR is your company?

An expert outlines how organisations can move their workforce from existing in terms of ‘me’ to thinking as ‘we’

In the multi-generational workforce of today, it can be difficult to create a unified workforce.
But one expert claims her research into organisational behaviour has outlined a procedure for doing so that will please all of your employees.

“It’s never been more important for companies to treat employees well and fairly—but it has also never been more complicated to do so,” Anne Bahr Thompson, founder and chief strategist of Onesixtyfourth, wrote in a recent Harvard Business Review article.

“With so many different generations in the workforce, each expecting different things from their employers, exactly what kind of relationships should companies be fostering with employees—and how should they go about doing so?”

Her research into organisational culture showed that nurturing faithful employee relationships today is no different than cultivating loyal customers.

“Both begin with a ‘me-first’ orientation—that is, [workers feel that] companies must satisfy their wants and needs first—and then stretch across a continuum, culminating in a ‘we’ orientation—[where employees feel that] the company address the issues that are important to their community and the broader world,” she explained.

“Just as consumers now look to do business with companies that advocate for causes they care about, employees are looking for employers who advocate for them and on their behalf for causes that matter to them.

“Companies are no longer ‘just’ companies. As technology has removed the boundaries that historically divided our work and personal lives, we are now imbuing employers with the characteristics of friends, family and even enemies —looking for them to focus on the things we care about and, if they don’t, then joining forces with someone else who does.”

It takes a careful mix of mission, management, and culture.

Bahr Thompson outlined five ways that companies can be gear the ‘me-to-we continuum’ towards the expectations of different generations.

1. Trust

“Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials first and foremost want to work for a company they trust, one that lives up to its promises and delivers value to them individually – the ‘me’ proposition,” wrote Bahr Thompson.

“Fair salary and benefits are the basis of trust in the workplace, and the starting point for any company looking to create a better employer-employee relationship.

“Policies that ensure people get regular acknowledgement and praise for a job well done are also critical to promoting a more trusting, positive, healthy, relaxed and less-stressed work environment—for all generations.”

2. Enrichment

Work-life balance rated high across all employee groups in Bahr Thompson’s research; but different cohorts wanted different things.

“Baby Boomers look for recognition of their individual strengths and skills, and accountability that fosters pride in a job well done,” she explained.

“Gen Xers seek friendly employers that help them to achieve their goals by simplifying their personal chores and making routine tasks easier to accomplish, [and] Millennials yearn for employers that focus on their personal development and well-being.”

This included providing supportive managers, rather than faceless bosses; rewards for good ideas; egalitarian organisational structures; and fully funded professional and personal development programs.

3. Responsibility

“All people expect their employers to treat others fairly, behave ethically and be proactive in their business practices,” wrote Bahr Thompson.

“This doesn’t mean you have to have a perfect brand reputation.

“Indeed, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials all respect and become fans of businesses that exhibit human traits and are honest about their shortcomings, providing you have not been duplicitous and are making a concerted effort to improve.”

4. Community

Bahr Thompson referred the company we work for as “a badge of sorts”.

“[It] signifies who we are and what we’re about to our family, friends and people we meet in general,” she said.

“A sense of ‘belonging’ and working in a culture that mirrors our values has always strengthened employee engagement.

“While Baby Boomers seek to work alongside teammates and Gen Xers look to form friendships with coworkers, Millennials aspire to spend time—physically and virtually—in a cohesive, supportive and enriching environment.

“They endeavor to connect with friends who share their values and interests, not just career stages, job functions or organizational departments.”

5. Contribution

“Instead of developing one-off social responsibility initiatives or even cause marketing campaigns for employees, consider how you can support a sense of shared responsibility across the business and thereby engage employees in more meaning,” advised Bahr Thompson.

“Treating employees as customers is not a new idea. However, the difference between human resources and human relationships is significant.

“Supporting employees across the me-to-we continuum encourages more holistic relationships between employees and employers.

“It enables employees to achieve their full potential based on mutual understanding, mutual respect, mutual reliance and mutual benefit thereby cultivating more loyal connections.”

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