Trends, Challenges and Opportunities for Women in the Workplace

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This article is the first in a series of articles spotlighting women in the workplace, commemorating National Women's History Month 2014.

According to the Department of Labor, roughly 70% of all women in the U.S. work. But what are some of the challenges that women face today in the workplace? And how can organizations help the ever evolving working mother? We spoke with Susan Pyles about women in the workplace.
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Easy Ways to Keep the Generations Engaged

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The concept of Employee Engagement has grown significantly in popularity over the years. Research shows that more traditional concepts of employee opinion or employee satisfaction don’t necessarily correlate to the likelihood that employees will stay and thrive, go above and beyond their primary job duties, or recommend the company’s products and services to customers. But those are the very definitions of employee engagement.  Research also shows that top performers tend to be more engaged than average or low performers and they out-produce their counterparts. So, the question is NOT whether keeping workers engaged is important or not.  Most senior leaders today would agree it is. The million dollar question is ‘HOW do we engage our workers’? Or, more pointedly, ‘How do we engage what is now a very diverse workforce’? We don’t all follow the beat of the same drum. (Some of us have trouble deciphering text messages from Millennials, let alone producing a beat they might follow!). But if we study what’s important to the generations and we study what influences engagement, we find quite a bit of overlap and some pretty easy ‘fixes.’

For example, the Traditionalists (born before 1946) tend to be driven by formal, public recognition, leadership roles, and responsibility. These are likely the folks who’ve been with your organization for many years, perhaps approaching retirement. They may feel that ‘No one cares what we think and what we know; no one asks us for feedback anymore.’ In most cases, they are storehouses of undocumented information about the company, products and services, customers, and processes. Often they are underutilized, disengaged resources.

A great way to engage this group is to establish them as mentors. Serving as a mentor meets Traditionalists’ needs for leadership, responsibility, and recognition, and mentoring is a key driver of employee engagement.  Whom should they mentor? The Millennials (born between 1982 – 2000). A recent study discovered that unlike previous generations who joined and identified with a company, this generation identifies with a person, specifically a leader. They want their own workplace and career tour guide. They look for someone to connect with whom they can learn from and who will champion them and their career. Who better to provide that connection than their own dedicated mentor? Plus, tenured mentors can learn a lot from the Millennials too.  In fact, pairing people strategically to ensure mutual benefit is a key to the success of this type of initiative. Be sure to take personality, workstyle, skill set, background, and interests into account, and give both mentors and mentees choices in partnering. Finally, to ensure engagement is impacted, both mentor and mentee should benefit from job challenges, training, recognition, development and growth, and autonomy as part of the mentoring experience.

Baby Boomers are motivated by recognition, taking charge, making a difference, teaming, personal growth, health and wellness, autonomy and creativity, competition and success. If they aren’t already formal leaders in your organization, these are ideal people for informal leadership roles. Engage them by asking them to ‘chair’ initiatives that matter to them. Projects involving wellness, community outreach, and the ‘customer experience’ are good examples.  The key to this approach is how you go about it. Let them choose the initiatives they want to be involved in. Appoint them as chair or leader as a form of recognition. Do it publicly. Allow them to form a team to work with. Provide the ‘what’ (the high-level goal), but let them decide on the ‘how’. When creating informal, meaningful leadership roles for Boomers, a few key elements must be present in order to impact engagement, including recognition, co-worker cohesion, and autonomy.

Last but not least, what about those strong-willed, independent Gen Xers? The areas of overlap between what engages workers in general and what drives Gen Xers in particular include challenging work, training, recognition and reward, a good relationship with their boss, coworker cohesion, and development and growth opportunities. In short, this group wants to feel as though they’ve ‘made it.’ With them, keep it high profile and you’ll keep them engaged. Here are some ways to do that:  allow them to work on company-wide challenges or the newest, most high profile venture. Ensure they have opportunities to interact with senior leaders. If their boss is not a strong, well-respected leader pair them with an internal mentor who is. If they are capable, put them on a fast track to assume a management/leadership role. Give them stretch goals and meaningful rewards such as bonuses, time off, and recognition. Permit them to attend off-site training or conferences, obtain certifications or pursue a degree. Ensure they work in areas of the organization where they have peers they can partner with, learn from and befriend.

Engaging your workforce in alignment with their generation-based needs is one way to maximize your organization’s return on your leadership investment. Committing to trying just a few ideas to better engage your employees can have real impact.  Many great leaders are said to have done some sort of personal accounting at the end of each day. When you leave your office each day, ask yourself….did I give my employees one more reason to go or one more reason to stay?