The reality of having five generations in the workforce is upon us, as Gen Z begins to enter the workforce. At over 74 million strong and growing, these post-millennials “digital natives” are poised to become the largest working generation yet. They share many similarities with the millennials, but also have their own unique set of expectations and assumptions they bring to work (see my LinkedIn blog post about truly communicating).
I travel quite a bit, and I always come away from my many conversations with HR and business leaders with incredible, and often poignant, examples of the new reality of working with the changing workforce. I am continually made aware of how a simple slight can have lasting implications for many people in the workplace, and how significant it can be to simply hear a person’s concerns and respond to them.
When discussing this at a recent presentation to HR leaders, an audience member affirmed the importance of listening to your employees, recounting a recent exit interview they conducted with a valued employee. The employee said, “I asked a question and never got a response. I just wanted a response. I could have handled the answer either way, but I never (even) got a response.” Sounds simple enough; we all get busy with the flow of work life and may assume that not responding will be taken as a sign that we don’t yet have an answer or are busy. But it could just as easily be seen as a sign that the person and question don’t merit a response—and clearly our assumptions can be dangerous, as this HR leader found out.
Another instance is related to feeling whole and safe at work. In Ultimate Software’s 2016 study about satisfaction at work, 95% of respondents said “the ability to truly be themselves” is directly tied to their satisfaction on the job. Six out of 10 people said that feeling emotionally unsafe at work would cause them to quit—on the spot. I heard a story of how one long-time employee had made all the difference for a transgender colleague by being vocal, and even protective, in his acceptance of the employee’s change in gender.
That same week, I was asked by a customer about how to handle fluid gender identity when current U.S. EEO compliance reporting requires either male or female identification (learn more in my post about workforce fluidity). I was glad to let him know that, at Ultimate, we provide our employees and our customers voice and choice with configurable technology, to provide them with local flexibility while ensuring compliance with regulatory requirements. Listening, rather than dismissing the request as an edge case, not only made our customer able to support his employees better, but also demonstrated that if HR supports one person in an unusual situation, they will support everyone in more commonly occurring scenarios. The key is to listen and act.
This is the kind of stuff that led many of us to get into the work of HR and people leadership, and is why it is so critically important and meaningful for organizations to be prepared for the conversations they will be having with their employees in the coming months and years. It’s why, at Ultimate, we have an initiative to truly listen to the “Voice of the Employee” (VoE) and follow through with action, and it’s why we are repeatedly ranked as a Best Company to Work For.
Leaders are often told their people are their priority, though in the bustle of the day to day, that can be lost. But be assured that, for the employees, a conversation that may seem less than critical to a leader can mean everything…even a reason to leave.