Leaders, do workforce engagement issues keep you up at night? If not, here’s a powerful wake-up call from Gallup. Last year, the global employee engagement rate was only 23%. Although that’s the highest level since Gallup started tracking global data in 2009, it means 77% of the workforce still misses the mark. Plus, it falls far short of the 72% benchmark seen in best-practice organizations. So, how can your company move in the right direction? Empower people — especially younger team members.
Engage? Or Empower?
Employers recognize just how vital engagement is for workforce well-being and satisfaction, as well as overall business productivity and profitability. As a result, the desire to improve engagement has spawned an endless number of programs, initiatives, and tools to help keep employees interested and engaged in their work. Yet still, strong engagement remains elusive.
Why? Sometimes, the best solution is not about adding more layers to an already complex leadership strategy. Instead, it’s about understanding and adapting to changing workplace trends. This is precisely what’s needed now.
Today’s work dynamics require leaders to understand, appreciate, and adapt to the interests and motivations of an increasingly younger workforce. Those who master this subtle art of purposeful empowerment are more successful at inspiring their staff with a new sense of focus, connection, and commitment.
What Do Next-Generation Engaged Workers Look Like?
As the president of a leadership development consulting firm, I often speak with managers about the most difficult challenges they face. Recently, their answers involve a common complaint. “Kids today!” But what exactly do comments like this mean? When we dig deeper, a more specific profile emerges:
- Employees from younger generations seem uncertain, yet confident.
- They continuously demand more, even when myriad choices are available.
- They introduce new ways to communicate, and are fluent with digital technologies that are typically beyond the grasp of senior team members.
These generational differences may cause frustration and friction. But in truth, every generation can point to differences in others that create difficulties. Instead, we need to challenge our own mindset and operate on positive assumptions rather than negative ones.
This means that no matter what younger employees bring to the workplace and how they shape the work culture, leaders play a vital role in helping them evolve into more engaged, committed individuals and teams. You can’t change the characteristics of people who are entering the workforce, but you can adapt to their reality and meet their development needs. And in the process, you can make your workplace more inclusive and resilient.
To Empower Employees, Where Should You Start?
When adapting to Gen Z and Millennial needs, it’s wise to emphasize working styles. For example, to feel comfortable and focused at work, younger people expect employers to demonstrate an ongoing commitment to their wellbeing. This may include flexible schedules, remote or hybrid work options, shorter workweeks, the ability to take extended mental health breaks, and other creative benefits and work choices.
Support for mental, emotional, and financial health is the new bread and butter of Millennial and Gen Z work experience. And if you resist these needs, you risk losing the best and brightest young talent.
Younger members of the workforce know many possible career paths are available to them. They don’t need to commit to any particular company for the long haul. Now, these individuals are more open to participating in the gig economy and going solo as professional practitioners and entrepreneurs.
Their work/life expectations are also more than a wish list or a passing phase. Here’s why: After years of pandemic disruption, intense remote work environments, and economic challenges, 46% of Gen Zers and 45% of Millennials are feeling burned out. As they see it, their demands are not whims — they’re about physical and mental survival.
How Can Leaders Empower Employees in a Meaningful Way?
Millennials and Gen Z are predicted to comprise 75% of the workforce by 2025. So, if you don’t learn how to empower and engage them now, you’ll soon be outnumbered. To start creating a work environment where younger team members can thrive, try these three strategies:
1. Consider What’s Driving Various Demands
First and foremost, seek to understand the logic behind requests from younger employees. For example, a Gen Zer may prefer remote work because they live in a smaller, cheaper town so they can make ends meet and avoid an expensive commute. Or a Millennial could seek schedule flexibility so they can pursue a side job to improve their financial stability.
There are often serious, valid reasons behind younger workers’ expectations. Recognizing these underlying drivers can help you respond effectively and build a work environment where every employee can thrive.
2. Give Younger Employees a Seat at the Table
One of the most damaging assumptions you can make as a leader is to assume you’re always the most intelligent person in the room. If you let go of this notion, evolution and innovation will immediately become easier, more people will feel included and involved, and ultimately, your business will become more successful.
Invite other voices to join the conversation. Acknowledge the importance of their input, and accept the value of their perspectives. As a result, you can expect a more loyal, committed workforce. In fact, Deloitte research indicates that when younger employees feel empowered to share their ideas and influence in decision-making, 66% stay with their employer for at least 5 years, compared to only 24% who do not feel empowered.
3. Don’t Just Delegate — Empower
Many leaders stop short of empowering employees merely by taking tasks off their own plates and delegating them along with explicit instructions. But if you move from delegating tasks to actually elevating employees and giving them power, they will take ownership and accountability for projects. And ultimately, they’ll be more engaged.
The key is trust and a willingness to let go of control.
As leaders, we’ve been conditioned to jump in with ideas, answers, and solutions — but when we do, we take that opportunity away from others. Whether your team comes to you with an idea, a problem, or a recommendation, take the time to really listen to what they say and why it’s important. And when you ask questions, ask with an intent to understand, not to solve.
It’s Time to Empower the Future
As leaders, we all must recognize and embrace the fact that the world is changing, and organizations are changing, too. This is an opportunity to grow in new, interesting, productive, and profitable ways.
Younger generations are here. They are looking to us to help them transform the way we work. So, don’t dig in your heels or bury your head in the sand. Instead, consider the possibilities and leverage this new source of talent that, with our support, can build a brighter future.