People often refer to my generation as digital natives, but that’s not quite true. Sure, I was a quite young when the internet arrived, but my family only got a computer when I was a teenager. By the time Facebook became popular in 2008, I was 21 and certainly no longer an impressionable child.
What defines my generation is not actually our ‘digitally nativeness’, but that we grew up in an era of transition. As the first users of sites like Myspace and ICQ, we witnessed the turmoil of a world shifting from paper and landlines to social media, blockchain and AI.
As a result, Millennials became a generation that questioned everything, including the way we work.
- Do companies have to be damaging to the environment?
- Is what my boss says really the be-all-end-all?
- Why shouldn't I be able to have both, a career and a family?
Though questions like these may come as a disruption to many traditional firms (Millennials certainly have been subject to a lot of media scrutiny for this) with Gen Y making up ⅓ of the current workforce and 50% in two years, companies no longer have a choice but to respond to a more demanding employee base. After focusing energy on understanding UX and and CX, it’s now time to turn to EX, the Employee Experience.
In April this year, I was invited to speak about Gen Y, Organisational Change and Employee Experience at the Microsoft Explained Conference.
One study that demonstrates the need for this shift to EX is the Gallup study. One of Germany’s most renowned studies, this survey examines employee’s motivation and engagement by looking at perceived quality of the workspace and employees emotional ties to their employer. The study revealed that over one half of employees go to work simply to work off their hours (‘Dienst nach Vorschrift’), showing low emotional attachment to the firm, motivation, responsibility or initiative.
On the flip side, a study by the Harvard Business Review showed that those who invested in EX were four times more profitable than those who did not. Conducted with over 250 organisations, results like these highlight the importance of investing in the workplace and that offering employees an experience as opposed to just cash is also worthwhile form a revenue perspective.
Amount by which companies that invest in employees outperform those that don't.
Of course, putting EX into practice is something many companies still struggle with, especially those who are more established. Nevertheless, there are some basic changes that all companies, big or small should take into account in order to adapt their business to a more 21st century model and increase their employee’s work experience.
One of the fundamental ways companies are integrating EX is by shifting from being simply an office and employer to becoming a community space. Sure, money still matters, but the deal of cold cash for work just doesn’t quite cut it anymore in a society that is increasingly valueing experiences over consumer goods.
A survey conducted by the Zukunftsinstitut in Germany interviewed around 511 Millennials with higher education about their Interests, Priorities and Values. Taking into account expectations and attitudes towards their job, professional / personal life balance and career goals, the study showed that so-called ‘Wir Werte’ (‘We Values’) and personal development within a team ranked higher than classical notions of professional ‘success’.
Studies like these show how the traditional model is being reversed and that, as Zeit Deutschland also picked up, Generation Y is less focused on income and more on overall work environment than previous Generations. Gen Y wants to work 150 percent, but they want enablement!
1. organisations need to transform into communities
2. we need to integrate gen y values into our culture dna
3. and leaders transition into community managers
At Coya, where I currently work, one of our most important values is called “Community First”, the next question that arises is naturally, how? Indeed, to create a community effectively is not easy and to offer EX, companies must take a look at their culture and values.
If we look at start-ups for example, we can see that these share certain common strategies to boost employee engagement:
- They give company shares
Self improvement and Learning Budgets to educate oneself outside the company
Flexible work hours that rely on trust and allow employees to come and go when they want
Unlimited vacation, which by the way, contrary to what many think does not get abused but is seen as a way of being fair and equal to each other
Different names and job descriptions such as ‘Team Member’ instead of Employee, allowing a certain value and community mindset to be communicated
Hosting community lunches or brunches
Group activities for employee’s well-being like meditation (I do this at Coya every morning with my meditation community) or offer yoga
Of course, as a company grows, ensuring that this culture does not get lost can become increasingly challenging. Back at the days when I was working for unu one of the founders introduced the "Culture Interview", which I now value a lot, as it's an applicant assessment not solely based on their competences and CV, but it actually evaluates their overall fit with our company values like ‘Community First’ that are important to us as an organisation.
In addition we are also developing the so-called Power Interview. This is based on an exercise we did at Coya where we asked everyone what their Superpowers were, in order to find out people’s individual strengths. Similar to this, How we Roll was a format we introduced to find out how different people like to work. Are you more of a night owl or a morning person? Do you prefer knowing the key facts or do you like to understand the bigger picture?
Looking at members ‘superpowers’ or individual work styles aligns with the Gen Y need to work in community while also feeling acknowledged, respected and challenged as an individual. Though of course it’s difficult to take into account all the small details, these types of exercises can help generate a certain awareness and encourage people to ask themselves “how can I contribute to the community?".
Finally, shifting to a community and integrating of core values that enable EX naturally also leads to a changing notion of leadership. As leader of my own generation, and having worked with two teams of up to 50 Millennials, I know how challenging it can be to cater to the unlimited self-entitlement and “Instant Gratification” that my Generation has developed partly thanks to social media. Nevertheless, if we want to transform the corporate culture, and integrate the values put forth by Gen Y leaders must learn to operate in a way that is more flat and less hierarchical.
One way to do this successfully is by breaking out into a network of smaller communities, or Squads as we call them in agile Start-ups. In these squads, every individual has a specific task that contributes to the whole. As a leader, it’s my job to guide the process and make sure each individual has what he or she needs to do their part. By tapping into the individual skills instead of telling them what to do, I allow my team to work autonomously and find a solution that they can present fully to me - in the end almost functioning like small CEO’s. By seeing a company more like a community, a network with common shared values and a culture, Gen Y may be changing the way that people work, but most likely for the better.
After all, the need to feel respected as an individual, valued as a person and being part of a community is something fundamentally human. Thus, integrating EX is not a question of age, but can help us create work environments that are more valuable to everyone. It doesn't matter whether you are part of the baby boomer generation or indeed a Millennial of Gen Y.
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