I recently blogged about syndicated columnist Penelope Trunk, whose new book, Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success, just came out. Penelope has lots of insights into the dynamics of today's workplace, particularly with respect to Generation Y. Ms. Trunk kindly granted me an interview.
For Your Approval: With some notable exceptions, it seems as if the quality of life at work today has been declining and that the gulf between employees and their employers is widening. What do you see as the biggest issues facing leaders in today's workplace?
Penelope Trunk: I think the quality of life at work is actually improving because employees have so much power. If they don't like work they can leave. There are plenty of jobs to be had. The unemployment rate among college grads is less than 2%. Anyone who is staying in a job they hate because they can't get a better job should see a career coach for repositioning. With good coaching and and an open mind for taking in feedback, most people can get a job that does not decrease their quality of life. Employeers are desperate. That said, a lot of people mix up not liking their life and not liking their job. Your job cannot make you happy. I write about this a lot. Here's a link. If you are not happy, instead of blaming your job, blame yourself, and fix your life.
FYA: I agree with you that the generation coming into the workplace is very powerful, but have employers done very much to improve working conditions to accommodate the values and preferences of these employees? The latest studies on employee engagement, including one recent one by Towers Perrin, seem to document a growing gap between employees and their employers. Employers will be forced to change, but have they changed much yet?
PT: I think some employers have changed and some have not. The important thing might be individual managers, though. One's work experience, especially in terms of personal growth, is so dependent on one's direct manager really caring about providing a stimulating work environment. A boss can make things good in a bad company and bad in a good company.
FYA: You've written about "Generation Y" and how this new infusion of younger employees creates challenges for employers. How would you characterize this generation in terms of what they expect from their employers?
PT: Generation Y wants personal growth, every day, good mentoring, co-workers they like, and, after all that, they want to be paid well. It's actually what everyone wants in a job, just no generation has been so bold, or so well positioned, to demand it at the entry-level. Here's a column I wrote in Time magazine about what Gen Y wants.
FYA: What's different about how companies should communicate with this generation? Do you think employers should be involving them more in a two-way conversation? Many companies are starting internal blogs or launching company-specific Facebook-like internal social networks. Do you think these things are important and meaningful, or is there something else companies should be doing to connect with employees?
PT: Young employees want to have personalized connections. Their parents have been overseeing their personal growth for two decades. And when parents were out of their league, they hired SAT coaches, soccer tutors, and personal stylists. This generation is used to having adults very available and very enthusiastic to help. So that's what they expect at work. It needs to be one-to-one, personalized attention. And not just from a boss, but from many angles in an organization. High maintenance, yes: But this is an extremely educated, motivated and well-equipped group of workers who will outperform everyone who came before them in terms of productivity. It's worth the investment.
FYA: If you were an employee communications specialist, what advice would you be giving senior leaders?
PT: Learn about what generation Y wants from work. It's entirely reasonable, and they are incredibly motivated, optimistic employees. Stop thinking about how hard you worked to get to the top and start thinking about how to make the ladder less important than what each person brings to the table on a given day. The biggest shift needs to come in the egos that are perched at the top of the company.
FYA: What will the workplace be like 10 years from now? And who will be the winners and the losers in attracting and keeping the best people?
PT: In ten years, only the winners will be around. the losers will be eaten up by the winners, I think. The winners will be companies that were not afraid to show humility in the recruiting process. It's an employee driven market for the foreseeable future, which turns the recruiting model on it's head. If companies cannot make that change, they won't attract enough talent to keep things going.
Readers, what do you think of Ms. Trunk's observations? Is your organization changing to meet the expectations of this new generation? And are you changing the way you communicate to connect with Gen Y?