I have this very clear memory of standing with parents and incredibly excited children on the sideline of a windswept soccer field. The last game had just ended. Our team, that is to say my 6 year old son’s team, The Green Goblins, lost 6-0. We had won one game that season – a gripping 7-6 contest in which the excitement of the win for all but the coach was still easily overshadowed by the arrival of the snack parent.
But here we were, after the final game of the season, and something even more exciting than snack distribution was about to happen. It was trophy time.
As each name was called, the child of the moment would walk up, grab the trophy, slap high-five with the coach and grin. Parents clapped, occasionally yelled (“YEAH, JUSTIN!!!), pictures were taken, and the next trophy was pulled out of the box. And even as I clapped and cheered for my son, and my wife angled for just the right shot at the precise moment David received his trophy, it still bothered me.
We have raised a whole generation of people accustomed to receiving trophies for losing.
Beginning somewhere around the late 1980’s to early 1990’s, they stopped keeping score. We were told that everyone’s a winner, just for having participated. There were no losers.
And, truth to tell, maybe there was something to that. I’m no psychologist, and I’ll allow for the possibility that eliminating the label of “winners” and “losers” from early sports or extracurricular involvement (they also stopped giving out blue ribbons at the science fairs) prevented the destruction of the egos and self-esteem of a generation.
Yet even with this as a possibility, the more sober among us has long realized that everything comes at a cost. The cost of this self-esteem saving strategy, it seems to me, is that we are now welcoming into the ranks of the newly employed young, vital, talented, and knowledgeable twenty-somethings with a pronounced sense of entitlement.
As Don Rheem, principal and co-founder of Engagient, one of the country’s leading employee performance and engagement consulting firms, describes millenials as people who:
- Go to work at GE and, within a week of having been there, send an e-mail to the CEO and expect an immediate response;
- Have a pronounced need for immediate feedback, praise, and recognition;
- Are constantly motivated (often into impulsive action) by a need to discover what else is out there
The challenge for companies across all industries, therefore, is how to keep these people – “millenials” they’ve been called – fully engaged and fully committed to the organization without: (1) disenfranchising more established workers; or (2) losing focus on the business at hand.
Now, upon reaching this point in the article, you may think that I would take the easy way out and point to “innumerable” solutions to this problem posited by countless experts. There are countless experts, to be sure, but the studies, articles, and anecdotal evidence points to only one answer.
I will repeat that. There is only one way to keep millenials fully engaged in and loyal to your company. And the millenials are not alone. This one rule applies as the single solution for client loyalty and the retention of older or more established workers.
The key to employee retention, client loyalty and a strong marriage is the ability to develop and sustain a relationship at an emotional level. In other words, there must be a deeper connection between the employees and the business than just salary, perqs and a holiday bonus. There must be a belief in the purpose of the enterprise and the employee’s place in it. Each employee must be able to answer the key question “why do I keep coming to work?” with something more than just a reference to salary.
In addition to fair (if not downright attractive) salary and benefits, the organization must have a vision beyond just an increase of profits for the owner. There must be buy-in – meaning everyone, including those crucial (and temperamental) millenials – must be on board the bus.
The company must work to establish trust, rather than just assume it’s there.
There must be feedback well beyond just an annual review.
The company must create traditions, events or other visual touchstones to keep employees anchored to its vision.
In essence, a company coming to terms with the challenges of keeping today’s workforce fully engaged has no choice but to take its cue from those non-scoring, participation-trophy games by providing approval, feedback and a connection – not just to the actual activity, but to the overall value that comes with being part of the team.