Lately I feel stuck in an odd tug of war. On one side of the rope are my members, the women business owners whom I adore and respect, the women who are doing amazing things with their businesses, growing by leaps and bounds and working their butts off. However, these women are frustrated that their younger employees aren’t fully engaged, don’t want to be tied to an office, and want a lot of flexibility.
On the other side of the rope are the students I am teaching at American University. These students are 20 to 22 years old and are excited about graduating, landing their first jobs and becoming independent. They understand that it’s going to be a lot of work, and they can’t wait to start.
So when I hear my members complain that they want employees in the office every day, working as hard as they did back in the day, it makes me stop and think. Is this a “them” issue? Or is it a “me” issue? (By “me” I mean all of us who aren’t 22 anymore!)
And you know what? I don’t think it’s them. I think it’s us. We may be blaming a generation for something we could be doing better – employee engagement. And here’s why I think that.
A few things are proven to increase employee engagement. For example, hiring employees with proactive or optimistic personalities can influence employee engagement. It has also been shown that employees tend to be more engaged with a company that has a “clan” culture – one that promotes employee development, recognition, and trust between management. Creating an environment where employees feel they have job security also encourages engagement.
But you know what really matters? One of the most important variables in the foundation of employee engagement? Leader behavior.
When I asked two women who work as head of “people” for local multi-million dollar companies here in DC how they engage their employees (especially the younger employees), they both shared the same viewpoint: The leadership, and especially the founder, has to lead by example.
At one of the companies, the CEO subsidizes yoga on Fridays at lunchtime. You have to be in the office to attend, as the studio is across the street. The CEO goes, so the employees go.
And at the other company, they don’t presume that only working parents need to work from home. They understand that many employees don’t want to pay a dog walker every single day or that they have doctor appointments in the middle of the work day. These employees get flexibility too. Everyone in the company, including the CEO, can pick a few days a month to work remotely.
Sometimes we’re so busy trying to keep it all together and our businesses moving forward that we become a little controlling. This leads to less enthusiastic and engaged employees. At least that’s what I’m hearing from the students I’m working with. And I get it. I get their point of view, and I get mine, too. If I’m paying someone to be at work, why can’t they just be there? It’s hard. Being the boss is hard. But so is being the employee.
So ask yourself: Is it “them” or is it “me”?