What Employees Really Want from Their Leaders

I noticed that employee engagement and motivation issues have been trending a lot in posts found on my LinkedIn and Twitter feeds. Therefore, I felt that this was a perfect topic to end the workweek with. A few months ago, I had posted a discussion question on the LinkedIn:HR group asking my HR peers to tell me what qualities made a good leader. Not only did they give me some fantastic feedback, but employees also spoke up and let me know what they wanted from their leaders. I thought that sharing this with all of you could potentially spark ideas on how to fix some of your companies’ motivation problems and maybe help find a way to make the workplace better as a whole.

As always, when I think of good leadership, I recall my time working as a customer service representative with CreateSpace (an Amazon.com company). The team leads and office manager were simply amazing and I couldn’t help but respect their leadership skills. Melissa Woodrow, one of the team leads of that department, was kind enough to give me some insight on what qualities made her to be the phenomenal leader that she is today.

“I have been a Lead for quite a while (over 4 years) at a great company. I believe leadership has a lot to do with your personality rather than being taught. Sure, you can ‘learn’ how to handle difficult situations with employees. You can ‘learn’ how to coach employees. But you can’t really fake empathy. And the bottom line is: if you don’t care, employees won’t care for you,” she stated.

Comparing the statement she gave against the comments employees had given me, I’d have to say that they are well aligned. A large portion of employees had said that they wanted a leader to be more personal with them and show that they listened and cared. “The most important thing is earning trust in others. That’s where it all starts. Listen. Show good judgment. Be interested in what they are doing. Have fun,” Woodrow added. Along those lines; Jimmy Ruane, an individual who has grown up in a military family, said he has met some of the most admirable leaders over the years. He informed me that the best leadership quality he has seen was a leader who always puts his people first.

One comment I made in my discussion post had a lot of others chiming in with their whole-hearted agreement. I had declared that a good leader is someone that wants you to do better than they had and wants you to do the things they never could. Too often, especially in this economy, leaders fear their job security by letting other’s outshine them. Other leaders simply let their egos get in the way of mentoring their employees to reach their highest potential. In these situations, it’s no wonder why employees lose motivation. Most employees want to grow in some way or another so if you don’t foster that desire they’ll eventually look for other ways to do so, even to the point of leaving your company.

If you want to be a good leader and want your employees to be more committed, then you need to be invested in them. Jim Sweeney, an employee of Amazon.com, had told me that he feels a sense of loyalty to his company due to the fact that his leader (his department manager) invested in his future. He recently started to go back to school to obtain a Bachelor’s in Computer Science in hopes to pursue a career in Software Development. His leader had already taken time to know this and sincerely thought about how to help. Soon after, she told him she was setting up time each week for him to be mentored by someone in the SD/IT department.

“She (his manager) really showed me that she cared about my professional growth and, in turn, made me want to grow with Amazon. It just validated my feelings about committing to this company long-term,” Sweeney said. That is quite a statement coming from a Gen Yer, a generation that is notoriously known for job hopping every couple years.

Leadership style is also something to consider. Human resources professionals had told me that some of their better leaders had been using the participative leadership style. This style includes the employees in information, brainstorming, and discussion. Employees responded well to this type of style because they felt like their opinions were heard and that they truly were contributing something. Also, this allowed employees to feel more accountable in the success of the company.

Leaders, it’s not always about leading the pack and expecting them to follow. Sometimes you need to be a part of the pack to really understand what they want and need from you. Once you successfully implement that into your leadership strategy, you’ll find that your employees will follow without hesitation.

Links, People, and Companies to follow:
The Right Kind of Employee

Jim Sweeney, Amazon.com employee

CreateSpace

Amazon.com

LinkedIn

A special thanks to my brother/Marketing Extraordinaire, Jeff Perez, for teaching me how to use HTML properly 🙂

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What Gen Y Wants from an Employer

Today’s topic will be about Gen Y and the workplace. I felt that this subject was important to bring up mainly because Gen Y will dominate majority of the workforce by 2025. With that being said, employers need to focus in on the characteristics of Gen Y and develop a plan to attract and retain talent. I also particularly like this topic because I am a Gen Yer and majority of my peers are Gen Yers in the workforce. Needless to say, I am surrounded by discussions regarding this generation and what they want from an employer. Here are some facts, in no particular order:

Gen Y values company culture: I’m sure if you’ve read any of my previous blog postings you can see how much I stress the importance of company culture. I’ve been placed in all kinds of work environments over the last few years, so I’ve had the pleasure of seeing good, bad, or non-existent cultures. My work ethic was affected by these environments. If I loved a company and was proud to work there, it would be evident. My performance would definitely show it and I would not hesitate to broadcast everywhere that my employer was better than your employer (:-P).

I didn’t really realize the importance of company culture until I worked at CreateSpace (an Amazon.com company). They seemed to really know how to celebrate individualism, embrace diversity, and encourage people to be openly innovative. The managers I had were great in the sense that they knew that everyone was different and, therefore, had to be managed differently in order to get the best results. I distinctly remember my Team Lead asking me, “How do you like to receive feedback?” I think my mouth hung open as I processed the fact that my supervisor actually cared enough to find the best way to manage me effectively. The leaders there also celebrated people for a job well done and knew how to make the workers feel like their contributions mattered.

Also, as I mentioned yesterday, Benefitfocus seems to hone in on the fact that culture is valued by this generation. They were passionate enough about it that they actually published a book on the subject. I’ll be receiving that soon, so there look out for future posts regarding it!

Gen Y strives to grow professionally and wants feedback: This generation relies heavy on feedback and mentoring. It’s not because they’re needy and require praise all of the time, but simply because they want to know what they do well and what they can improve on. They want to work hard, grow, and move forward in the working world. They’ll value an employer that gives them suggestions and opportunities to do so. Some of the better employers recognize this and make an effort to give regular feedback, discuss career paths, and present opportunities for employees to gain experience. For example, Apple and Google have classes so employees can continually learn and increase their knowledge. It was nice to see an employer invest so much in their employees’ educations.

Also, feedback is important for reasons other than helping employees grow. I distinctly remember a friend telling me that her company is big on the “no news is good news” philosophy. I was actually appalled by that. How could a company only give negative feedback? Needless to say, the employees of that company were extremely uneasy because they never knew if they were doing things right. Anxiety caused productivity to waver, employees to be less invested/committed in the company, and turn-over. Those who left the company told me that they’d rather be with a company that didn’t keep them in the dark than stick with a company that may unexpectedly fire them for mysterious reasons.

Feedback can help an employee see a future with the company. If no one shows them that a future is there, they’ll move on to greener pastures.

Gen Y wants workplace options: We are a technically savvy bunch which means we hope our employer can find other workplace options for us than just the typical 9-to-5-sit-at-a-desk-workplace. Although having a routine is nice, it can sometimes kill creativity, innovation, and feel like a cage. Technology and portable devices make it easy for employees to be mobile and stay connected. We hope that employers realize this so it allows more freedom: flexible work schedules; work-from-home; flexible workspaces around the workplace; and results-only-work-environments are some options that come to mind.

Although some employers are reluctant to do this for fear that employees will take advantage of these alternative work options, I think they will be pleasantly surprised to find out that Gen Y wants more responsibility. They want to be accountable for their work/contributions to the company. Additionally, they want recognition for their work. So instead of making your company feel like “Big Brother is watching”, consider other ways to measure productivity besides a punch clock. Perhaps adopt a work option that focuses more on end results.

Gen Y wants an employer that has integrity and makes a social impact: We just want you to be like our favorite superheroes. You know; the ones that do things for the greater good. Nothing is more of a turn-off than seeing a company go all “Machiavellian” and only do things that help their personal gain. If your company does good for others, your employees will feel good about working for you. I mean, who wouldn’t be proud to work for a company that somehow makes the world a better place?

Your company will seem trustworthy, which is a big thing that attracts talent. For example, candidates decided to take job offers with Salesforce.com because the company was involved in donating to a foundation and encouraged employees to volunteer and participate in community service. Who would have thought that you can attract candidates because of your social impact strategy?

It’s time to start training your leadership to change some of their practices. There are companies out there that will help you re-structure and develop your leadership efforts to help cater to the changes in the workforce. I’ve actually had the pleasure of networking with Martina Mangelsdorf via LinkedIn over the last few months. Over a course of a few e-mails and Skype conversations, I was able to learn that her company did just that. I was delighted to see that there are people out there that really understood what Gen Y needs out of an employer. So, employers, it is in your best interest to get prepared because Gen Y is coming for you!

Links to read (I apologize that my hyperlinking function isn’t working!):

Martina Mangelsdorf LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/martina-mangelsdorf/1/611/740

Leadership training for Gen Y: http://www.gaia-insights.com/

What Gen Y Wants- Time: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1640395,00.html?goback=%2Egmp_4358820

Harnessing the Power of the Loyalty Generation: http://socialmediatoday.com/davidjohnson4/563490/gen-y-harnessing-power-loyalty-generation?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=Social+Media+Today+%28all+posts%29&goback=%2Egmp_4358820%2Egde_4358820_member_127717648

Benefitfocus: Winning with Culture book: http://www.benefitfocus.com/culture/

Google Classes: http://www.businessinsider.com/google-11-amazing-classes-that-google-employees-can-take-2012-3?op=1

Apple University: http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/11/10/06/apple_university_revealed_as_plan_to_teach_executives_to_think_like_steve_jobs.html

Companies mentioned:
http://www.createspace.com
http://www.amazon.com
http://www.apple.com
http://www.benefitfocus.com
http://www.google.com
http://www.salesforce.com