The way your employees feel is the way your customers will feel. And if your employees don’t feel valued, neither will your customers.
–Sybil F. Stershic
Back in my salad days at Lakewood Publications, when I was in
my mid-30s I was working with a lot of people in their mid-20s,
who liked to ask me about woolly mammoths as pets and were always ostentatiously trying to help me across the street, whether
I wanted to cross the street or not. (I would generally respond with sympathy, and in one-syllable words, about having no other cultural reference than disco, and we’d all get back to work.) Ten years may not seem like a significant age difference in the workplace, but it only took about a year for us to move from typing up our copy with typesetting
codes and physically sending it to the typesetter to doing our own typesetting on our desktop computers.
Things were moving fast at the time, and they’re moving faster now. As businesses struggle to find and train skilled workers, and as boomers, busters and bridgers bring different work ethics and expectations to the job, I reviewed two articles in this issue (Perspective on page 24, and “Attracting younger workers to the trades” on page 38) with an eye toward creating one simple equation for workforce engagement, if such a thing exists. Two key factors seem to be at work:
Trade-offs. Does everyone need to attend college? Will everyone find a high-paying job, a career or a vocation that way? Chris Eicher, a student at WyoTech, says: “Schools really do tell you that you need to go to college. But you don’t. The trades are a really cool opportunity.” For me, my only technical training came in 8th grade Home Ec class, and once I’d made an apron, an A-line skirt and a hotdish, that was pretty much it. (And I didn’t get an “A.”)
A rewarding workplace. Not necessarily in terms of salaries, or even interesting work—but the kind of business that Patrick Howe has created at Wholesale Shade™, of which he says, “I’m just the happiness glue that holds these high performers together.” When employees know they’re valued, they value their jobs. And their customers.
With a business balance sheet, it has always seemed to me that along with debits for “resources consumed,” there should be a credit for “resources conserved.” Employees should be on the revenue side of things as well as expenditures, and not just in terms of products created. The benefits aren’t exactly intangible, but could be challenging to quantify at first.
Different generations at work and increasing technology don’t have to clash: just because an editor doesn’t see a need to post a picture of every meal online, that doesn’t mean she can’t craft a meaningful social media strategy on the job.
Or start a Woolly Mammoth Daycare. There are always opportunities.