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Will Work for Meaning: Engaging and Retaining Talent

By most accounts, the Millennial generation is the most exhaustively studied and researched generation of all time. Organizations obsess and scrutinize the data to see what the implications are for business and the future of the workforce. What do Millennials want? What motivates them? How can we keep them—and keep them engaged?

Making sweeping, generalized statements about any large group of people is an easy trap to fall into, and that’s often the case with the way statistics about Millennial turnover and retention rates are interpreted. According to Deloitte’s Millennial Survey 2016, 44% are willing to leave their current employer for a new organization or to do something different within the next two years. Two in three expect to leave by 2020.

The oversimplified, boiled-down conclusion: This is a group of perennial job-hoppers who don’t have any real allegiance to their companies. But dig a little deeper, and you might find that the bigger story here is that many companies aren’t giving Millennials much reason to stay. And the issue may not be so neatly tied to a single generation.

Who Doesn’t Want Meaningful Work?

Overwhelmingly, Millennials say they are looking for meaningful work. They want to do work with a purpose for organizations that have a strong mission and culture grounded in making a difference. If they can’t find that where they are, they’re going to keep looking for the opportunity elsewhere, even if it means taking non-traditional career paths to find it.

We look at this desire for meaningful work as a Millennial trait. But does that mean other generations don’t really care about it, or that we shouldn’t worry about providing it to them?

While Millennials may be the loudest voices in the room, our research shows that meaningful work of all kinds—work that stimulates, energizes and motivates a person—combined with a supportive climate and tools, creates higher engagement, productivity and well-being, no matter what generation someone belongs to.

When people aren’t stimulated by the work they’re doing, they drop out of the game. On the other hand, giving them access to work that stimulates them pulls them into performing at their highest level.

This isn’t necessarily the “easiest” work. In fact, it’s often the most challenging, but it’s challenging in a way that the person finds inherently fulfilling. In The Whole Brain Business Book, Ned Herrmann describes it this way:

By stimulated, I mean having work that is so interesting to them that if they had the opportunity to choose, they would select it for its inspiration and pleasure because the performance is rewarding in itself.

Sounds an awful lot like what Millennials have been saying about “purpose over paycheck” in all those surveys.

Providing Meaningful Work: It May Not Be What You Think

Articulated or not, meaningful work is something that motivates all of us. But what one person finds meaningful and stimulating isn’t necessarily what will energize and engage another. Even the way “purpose” and “making a difference” are defined can vary from person to person.

One size doesn’t fit all, but this doesn’t have to be so complicated that you can’t make any headway. Get some clarity by having a good baseline and organizing principle in place. Because most work is mental, and because thinking preferences influence the kinds of work someone will enjoy most, the HBDI® can be helpful in understanding what someone is most fulfilled by and how they work best.

You can also use the Whole Brain® Model as a diagnostic tool to understand the mental requirements of a job. The more aligned an employee’s preferences are with the thinking requirements of the work, the more rewarding they’ll find it and the more motivated they’ll be to stick with it, give it their all—and stick with you.

Engaging Hearts and Minds

Here are some steps you can take to encourage greater alignment between people, the work and the culture at every step:

  • Educate employees at all levels about how their thinking preferences relate to their productivity, effectiveness, and personal and professional fulfillment.
  • Cooperate with employees’ efforts to adjust job tasks (consistent, of course, with getting done the job that has to be done).
  • Clarify how their talents, the work they do, and the organizational culture and values align to serve a broader mission and purpose.
  • Provide training, tools and support that will help them succeed today and stretch and grow so they can continue to pursue the work that inspires them.

As more and more companies struggle to retain Millennial talent—and as engagement levels remain low across all generations—it’s time to think more deliberately about passion and purpose at work.

While many companies are asking why Millennials are leaving and why so many people are disengaged, the better question might be, are we giving them a good reason to stay and contribute their best?

Helping employees find meaningful work is just one way to engage and retain top talent. Learn how you can master another key piece of the puzzle–Inclusive Leadership–today.

Get the free eBook: The Inclusive Leadership Playbook

Tags: Leadership Advice, The Whole Brain Business Book, Management development, employee development, employee engagement, employee retention

The four-color, four-quadrant graphic, HBDI® and Whole Brain® are trademarks of Herrmann Global, LLC.

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