By Shyaam Subramanian
A question that several millennials toy with is ‘Which job is right for me?’. When asked what factors would influence their choice, responses range from learning and growth, and organisational culture, all the way to compensation, opportunity to create impact, and autonomy. The challenge for an individual then is to rank these in the order of preference, identify what one innately values and then map opportunities to the most fundamental aspects of a job that would meet these preferences. Simple as it sounds, it is quite hard to do this exercise without the guidance of a trained coach. As the Nobel Prize-winning economist Richard Thaler elegantly wrote in his book Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness, “If you look at economics textbooks, you will learn that homo economicus can think like Albert Einstein, store as much memory as IBM’s Big Blue, and exercise the willpower of Mahatma Gandhi.” The real world is much more interesting and human beings far more complex.
The choice gets even harder when one starts to imagine how his or her preferences will change over time. With every learning experience, new insights surface, new interests emerge, and new areas of opportunity present themselves. Unsurprisingly, several studies by search consultants in India reveal that the average tenure of employees in the private sector has reduced drastically in the past decade. Estimates put long tenure employees (10+ years) in the range of 10-15% in most organisations that were surveyed. While there are potentially several reasons for this trend, I hypothesise that one of the reasons is the lack of alignment between organisation-wide efforts—culture resetting, norms, employee friendly policies—and what truly matters to every individual employee. For instance, merely changing a compensation philosophy that results in higher salary will not address the needs of every employee even if employee survey data shows that compensation is the biggest factor affecting satisfaction. The reason is simple—employees were not asked to make tough choices. Would you receive higher compensation or lower workload? Would you value less work hours or more role auditions? These questions when posed to individual employees will potentially surface far more insightful interventions that are more decentralised, more choice driven and more customised to individual preferences, which are getting more complex by the day. It will call for a high-functioning agile organisation and could potentially unleash people to bring their very best to work every day.
A key aspect that is potentially likely to transcend all choices for any employee is the sense of fulfillment or self-actualisation. Over the past few decades, several psychologists have called this factor by different names, and more recently, an increasing number of organisations are attempting to bring this to life. For people engaged in individual pursuits, such as art, music, child-rearing or any task that has full voluntary attention and brings the best in them, being in this state is transcendental. In organisations, such experiences when reinforced by ‘what’s the bigger picture we are working towards?’ could potentially have a dramatic impact. This is not the same as repeating a vision statement or making them physically visible in workplaces, but the energy and ability to ‘bring it to life’ every now and then. Vision is best lived when it is redundant to be stated. The leadership challenge then is to achieve that state.
For millennials considering what could be a great job, notwithstanding all factors that could influence the choice, two seem crucial and game changing. First, will the job under consideration allow individuals to get into their ‘zones’ of learning, growth and personal impact? And second, will it create and sustain the ‘feeling’ of working towards something much bigger that could be a deep positive impact on a society, a technological breakthrough that could change the world forever, or a dramatic shift in long held beliefs that could transform the fundamental behaviour of human beings?
This might sound idealistic but as the psychological and other needs and demands of employees get complex, it seems inevitable that the workplaces of the future will need to be different and more attuned to what their people desire, value and will benefit from.
Shyaam Subramanian leads program design, research, strategy and learning at Teach For India.
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