Forget Boomers, Forget Millennials: Treat Employees as Individuals

It is seductively simple to create categories that summarize characteristics of groups of people. We do this in politics, in marketing, and socially. “Millennials like this.” “Boomers like that.” “Republicans support this.” “People who buy this product do that.”

Generalizations help us make sense of the world around us and make life easier. In marketing, segmenting the target market creates focus and efficiency. However, in managing people, using large groupings of people can create disengagement, dissatisfaction, and increased attrition.

In EssentialHR.com, “Employee retention starts with realizing what each employee wants and working out the best way in which to help them get it as far as you can. Employees are not just employees – naturally, their desires are both inside and outside of work, so when they find a company that listens and responds to them holistically, they will remain on board much longer. This helps shape a psychological contract where commitment and loyalty are both obligations and rewards for both parties.” Treating employees with respect includes knowing their names, acknowledging them (and not just when they have a report due), and being aware of the requirements of their life outside of work. In other words, treating employees as individuals relies on the kinds of things that tend to get lost in highly productive, highly competitive businesses.

Sir Richard Branson gives his perspective: “Much like the word ‘entrepreneur,’ the idea of employee wellbeing was an alien concept when Virgin was in its infancy. While we didn’t openly discuss ‘wellbeing,’ the health and happiness of our people were always top of mind. New and exciting innovations and technologies have come along to shape our approach to employee wellbeing, but our attitude has always remained the same – it’s our people who drive our success, so we strive to maintain a healthy and happy culture, and create environments in which everyone can flourish.”

Employee “Wellbeing” has become the catch phrase for everything involved in treating employees as individuals. From the physical work environment to company culture, everything should be evaluated for their impact – or opportunity – for improving managers’ ability to treat employees as individuals. Georgie Drury, a tech entrepreneur, built an engagement wellbeing platform founded on these five pillars of wellbeing:

  • Is the work environment comfortable and supportive of getting work done? Does the company support and facilitate the employees’ health goals?
  • Does the employee feel the business respects and supports them in all areas of their life?
  • Opportunities to socialize with co-workers, especially with community volunteerism, can be valuable team-building exercises.
  • While it’s never “all about the money,” competitive compensation and benefits are table stakes. Add into that a reward and recognition program that makes sense to employees, and you have a good foundation for respect.
  • One of the biggest reasons most frequently given by employees in exit interviews is that they are leaving for greater opportunity or career growth.

While this sounds daunting, treating employees as individuals begins as direction from the top of the company – or not at all. Again, from Drury, “From my experience the organizations, which employees want to work for, are the ones where the CEO takes wellbeing seriously and leads by example by participating in corporate citizenship, e.g. volunteering, practicing mindfulness, committing to exercise goals, etc.”

You don’t have to scrap everything you’re doing and start over. However, a careful audit of your HR policies and procedures, as well as a thorough evaluation of your current employee engagement levels is never wasted effort. Failing to embrace staff as individuals can lead to serious negative consequences that directly impact the bottom line. Investment in employee engagement is often a very cost-effective remedy for this problem.

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