All Articles Leadership Management Workplace morale: Turn it inside out

Workplace morale: Turn it inside out

7 min read


This post is part of the series “Workplace Morale,” a weeklong effort co-hosted by SmartBrief’s SmartBlog on Leadership and the folks at Switch & ShiftKeep track of the series here and check out our daily e-mail newsletter, SmartBrief on Leadership. Don’t subscribe? Sign up.

Recently, I was preparing to moderate a panel on how employers and our newest crop of employees can successfully bridge the gap and create successful organizations. Easy, right? Not so fast. We had a lot to cover in our 45-minute time slot, with four panelists and a whole lot of information (and opinions).

Not surprisingly, our pre-conference discussions took lots of turns. Should we focus on what employers need, or what employees want? How could we explain not only how to attract newcomers, but how to retain them? What advice could we give our audience of both experienced managers and newbies that they could use right away back in their offices, in a really short time? Whew.

Inevitably, the talk turned to workplace morale and how to create it, no matter what generation you’re in. After all, if you’ve hired them but can’t keep ‘em, you have a little work to do. It’s estimated that millennials make up nearly 36% of our workforce today. and there’s much talk about how to hire and retain our newest generation. If you’re an employer (or, ahem, a more seasoned professional) you’ll recognize some of these concepts aren’t necessarily new.

As one panelist put it, how to bring the next generation of leaders into the fold has always been like the elephant in the room; the difference is that now we’re all actually talking about it.

Here are our five top takeaways:

Be sure to find common ground. NBC News recently reported that there has been a shift in the U.S. population: for the first time since 1947, the biggest age group isn’t Baby Boomers, it’s millennials. Since the highest concentration is among 22-year-olds, they may just be your next employees.

And not surprisingly, what’s “old” is new again. No matter what generation you’re in, it’s still all about great leadership, the ability to grow, and communication. Sure, we’ve all heard that the best way to retain almost anyone is to build — and solidify — a strong, unifying culture but this takes work, 24/7. First, pay attention to what your current corporate culture says — whether you nurture it or not, your company will have a culture. So listen up.

Look for differences in motivation. It’s true that different generations are motivated differently. For example, a Baby Boomer manager prefers in-person communication — they often want to see the whites of your eyes. Gen Y-ers (millennials) are at ease communicating primarily through e-mail and text. As an employer, you may need to focus on tailoring your approach with millennials, for example, as the way they learn is different from other generations.

Want to engage these new young professionals from the get-go? Think about how you can offer the opportunity to learn through mentorship. Besides the obvious benefits of more experienced professionals guiding newer managers, mentorship can be a two-way street. As one of our younger panelists noted, encouraging a rising star with a few years’ experience to mentor a newbie right out of college is a great way to offer leadership development right within your ranks.

And what else makes a millennial’s heart beat faster when it comes to choosing a job? If you’re thinking money, you’re not entirely wrong, but more importantly, take time to consider what really matters to them. Flexible working hours or the ability to take time to give back in your community can go a long way.

Don’t wait! Onboard (and then do something). Remember that the way you transition in new employees, or onboard them, can make all the difference when it comes to retention later on. Think, too about how you started out and remember that today’s employees want to participate and engage with others, and your feedback to them is essential.

Do you want to make sure your company remains relevant? Here’s an idea you can try at home: Our panelist Michael Brown, division vice president for Camden Property Trust, described how his company takes action to make sure they remain relevant , gain valuable feedback from millennials employees and foster leadership development.

Concerned that Camden’s team felt that the company wasn’t keeping up with the times, Chief Operating Officer Malcolm Stewart decided to get the inside scoop by holding informal meetings several times a year with a group of under-30 associates. He named it the “Hip committee” — that is, until staffers convinced him kindly that “hip” was, well, a little out of fashion. Renamed the “In-committee,” this group of up-and-comers meets twice a year and is relatively unstructured.

The goal is an open forum in which each committee member can bring their ideas, questions and comments to improve the company and its operations. Executive participation is limited (so that open expression is not); the president pops in occasionally, but Stewart is the only executive who regularly attends. To ensure both follow up and variety, minutes are taken, and this group of 16 includes 12 members who rotate in one-year terms so they can attend two consecutive meetings.

Does it work? You bet. Camden’s field office managers are invited to recommend who will be on the next In-committee, and the company can see first-hand which young professionals step up to the plate.

Learn to work through “Fire, Flood or Blood.” When my daughter and her friends were about 8 or 9, they perfectly cultivated what I call the “death shriek.” If you’re a parent, you’ve likely heard this: an ear-splitting, death-defying shriek which means absolutely nothing. Girls sometime just shriek because, well, we can. My advice to them? If there’s not a fire, there isn’t a flood and no one is bleeding, then it’s not an emergency. Now, consider your fabulous, dynamic organization which is going through a lot of change-and dare I say it, chaos. The trick here is learning how to separate out what’s urgent from what is truly a crisis, and show new leaders how to do it too.

Look around you. Sometimes, the best information is right in front of you. With two newly minted college graduates at home, I like to think I have my own mini-millennial lab at hand, and I secretly check out their approach to well, almost everything work-related. It’s estimated that millennials make up nearly 36% of our workforce today, and there’s much talk about how to hire and retain our newest generation. While preparing to moderate a panel on the topic, I talked with our four panelists. One younger employee volunteered that she often felt intimidated by more experienced managers. Aha, I thought, I remember this when I started out — don’t you?

Some things about our NextGen aren’t all that different, but perhaps our approach should be. Fostering a culture of encouragement and may take time, but it can go a long way. It’s marketing your company towards the future.

Shannon Alter is president of Alter Consulting Group where she offers strategic organizational assessments, training and leadership developments. Be sure to join the discussion on Alter’s blog at Connect with her on Twitter and with Alter Consulting Group at LinkedIn.