I recently read an article published by Wharton in its knowledge@wharton series that is particularly relevant for today’s professional knowledge firms. In keeping with Gary Hammel’s advice in his book The Future of Management the article talks to the issue of what employers can do to create a work environment that creates an opportunity for team members to excel.
One way to do this according to Wharton Professor Adam Grant is to “give employees the chance to customize their own employment arrangement,” because that “helps employees feel uniquely supported and valued.”
Think about an employment contract as a restaurant menu: An employer offers an employee a set of options he or she can choose from that are of similar cost to the employer…. We will probably be seeing a more concerted effort at this kind of mass customization in the future. An example of an option that give employees more autonomy over how their jobs are structured include the opportunity to telecommute one day a week or to negotiate degrees of scheduling flexibility.
In a Robert Half survey released in January 2011 executives were asked to identify employee perks they plan to offer, or already offer, in 2011 subsidized training or education came in highest (33%) followed by flexible work hours/telecommuting (27%), mentoring programs (25%), matching gift programs for charitable contributions (15%), on-site perks such as childcare, dry cleaning, fitness centers and cafeterias (11%), subsidized transportation (10%), sabbaticals (8%) and housing or relocation assistance (7%).
According to Bill Driscoll, northeastern district president for Robert Half International, “We now have four generations in the workforce” at the same time — the Silent Generation (approximate ages: 66 to 85), the baby boomers (ages 47 to 65), Generation X (ages 30 to 46) and Generation Y (also known as millennials; under 30).
Grant points to what he says is a surprising conclusion in a study that came out in March 2010 in the Journal of Management, namely that “the differences between the work values of different generations are very small.” The study — led by Jean M. Twenge, a professor at San Diego State University, and titled, Generational Differences in Work Values: Leisure and Extrinsic Values Increasing, Social and Intrinsic Values Decreasing — “shows that if you rank values by generation, most members of each generation care about the same values in the same order,” says Grant.
At a “fundamental level, people want the same things out of work; they just have different ideas about how to get there,” Grant adds. At the top of that list are “intrinsic rewards,” such as “the opportunity to do enjoyable work, experience personal development and growth, and feel a sense of accomplishment.”
Valued second highest are extrinsic rewards, “which include status and promotions, and altruistic activity,” such as the opportunity to contribute to others and the community. Third on the list are friendships and leisure. “There are trends indicating that intrinsic and friendship values are decreasing, and leisure and extrinsic values are increasing,” says Grant. “But overall, members of the baby boomer, Gen X and millennial generations are more similar than different in their work values.”
He notes two caveats to Twenge’s findings. First, “we know that many members of Gen Y are less willing to delay gratification and like more immediate rewards than their predecessors.” Second, Gen Y scores slightly higher in terms of how important leisure time is to them, “which means that if I were interested in attracting Gen Y to my company, I would increase perks that help them carve out more time for their outside interests, such as flextime, or incorporate these interests into the work time, such as employer-sponsored volunteering.”
Twenge’s study offers a number of additional insights. For example, “contrary to popular press reports, Gen Y does not favor altruistic work values more than previous generations. And social values (e.g., making friends) and intrinsic values (e.g., an interesting, results–oriented job), were rated lower by Gen Y than by boomers,” the study says. Twenge at one point also notes that “despite the emergence of a mini-industry built on the assumption of a changing workforce, empirical evidence for generational differences in work values is scant.”
The observations from these studies are totally aligned with the four basic human needs that Stephen Covey refers to: pay me fairly, use me creatively, treat me kindly and give me meaningful work to do. Furthermore, it would seem that they apply irrespective of generational issues.
And with all of that said …. I repeat what I have been saying for several years. The most successful Professional Service (Knowledge) Firms of the future—however you want to describe yourself—will be the ones who figure out how best to address the workplace environmental challenges that will enable and empower their people to excel. This is where sustainable competitive advantage is going to reside in the future as it does right now.