As an elder millennial (thank you @IlizaShlesinger 🙌) beginning my career in the United States, I remember a time when interviews were more like one-way interrogations, and asking your boss for vacation felt like sweating bullets. Even the head of HR seemed more like The Wizard of Oz behind a curtain than a soon-to-be colleague and future purveyor of company values.
Needless to say, thank God for technology, and thank God for change.
We now live in an era that's experiencing some of the most significant technological advancements and changes in history. For the first time ever, the most new hires of prime working age (25 to 54 years) in the U.S. are people of color, 40% of the most recent Fortune 500 board appointees are women, and more than 70% of the global workforce works remotely at least once a week.
So, what does this have to do with the people you hire — how to recruit them, onboard them, train, lead, and take care of them, appreciate them, love them, adequately compensate them, and when it makes sense, even let them go? Well, in short: a lot.
Just as industry, business, and technology have changed, so has the way we nurture, develop, and care for those who choose to make a commitment to our companies.
No longer is HR The Wizard of Oz. HR has a brand new name, and that name is people. From recruitment to onboarding to learning and development — it's people. People is a connector — of teams, values, and visions.
But, alas, slapping lipstick on a pig does not make it a different animal. So, what's in a name? And, how do we ensure people and culture, in the workplace, is a reflection of the original ideology that spurred its humble name-change in the first place?
Follow along with me on this journey, where together we'll explore, dissect, examine, embrace, and share the information we believe can help us all make our work, careers, and company cultures better.
Let's dig in.
Back in the day, during the Middle Ages, there was a peasants uprising... Okay, we should probably start a little more recently than that, so...
Modern standards for how we treat people in the workplace came to prominence during the Industrial Revolution (the first and second). If you aren't familiar with any of the industrial revolutions, here's a quick over-simplification for your learning purposes. 😏
During the first and second revolution, employers began opening factories with machines that could do the stuff people used to have to do by hand...but, like, exponentially more of it (sound familiar?).
Now, what came along with this was a shift in how many people worked for one local employer. Since workers were increasingly employed by factories, as opposed to engaging in one-on-one apprenticeships and other artisan trades and crafts, the worker-employer relationship began to erode and become less personal.
The evolution of mass-production in the workplace led to a focus on prioritizing profits over people.
And then the people said, screw it. They decided to push back.
Beginning in the 19th century, a wave of new labor laws and workers rights emerged around the globe. The British enacted protection for the "Health and Morals" of apprentices, Switzerland set the first legal limitation of working hours for adults, Germany pioneered protection for sickness and workers comp, and the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 established U.S. minimum wage, overtime pay, and further restrictions to curtail child labor.
With such significant legislation, cultural change was brewing.
This is a job advertisement from the classifieds section of The Indianapolis Star newspaper (Indiana, USA) in 1923.
Zooming in, you'll notice this little gem.
"Nothing but high-class men need apply." Beautiful. And, totally something you can't get away with today.
This is a job advertisement from the classifieds section of a completely different newspaper seventy years later, and two years before Craig Newmark created Craigslist.
Evidently, not much changed in the world of job advertisements over 70 years.
Websites like Craigslist ultimately began to disrupt the old way of posting classified ads in the newspaper by giving consumers a new way to share their needs online, for free.
Companies like Monster — and eventually Indeed — also joined the party, introducing a world of possibilities for job seekers and enormous pools of untapped talent for employers.
At roughly the same time, the average cost of an at-home personal computer (to sound completely retro) had been steadily decreasing. In 1975, for example, an IBM 5100 Portable Computer cost $8,975 ($42,357.28 when adjusted for inflation as of 2018), and now, forget going to the store — you can hop on Best Buy or Amazon and grab a computer for as little as a couple hundred bucks.
Personal computers in the home had now become affordable and accessible to the masses.
But what about the internet?
Two words: America Online.
Everything happening at this point in the mid-90s was smack in the heyday of the AOL dial-up explosion. The company was worth billions and, at the height of its popularity, boasted over 34 million subscribers, including approximately half of all U.S. households with internet access.
AOL was so popular, there was an entire movie based around it (I couldn't let this topic go without mentioning "You've Got Mail," an all-time favorite old-school rom-com of mine).
With access to computers and the internet more prevalent than any other time in history, new and exciting job opportunities were now an arm's-length reach away for those who would have never known they existed.
You're likely familiar with the famous study that showed when consumers have more options, they're less likely to make a purchase.
If you aren't familiar with that study, here's all you need to know: A student from Columbia and another from Stanford conducted a research study where they set up a "limited choice" of chocolates in one store window, and an "extensive choice" of chocolates in the other.
While fewer people walked into the store after seeing the limited display of chocolates, those who entered were three times more likely to make a purchase after sampling from the limited choice, versus those who walked in and selected from the extensive display of chocolates.
PS, I really like to say the word chocolate. Don't know why. Moving on.
In that same study, something even more profound surfaced. Something I rarely hear anyone talk about.
Here's an excerpt:
"After actually sampling their chocolates, extensive-choice participants reported being more dissatisfied and having more regret about the choices they had (sic) made than did limited-choice participants."
In short, having too many options led to a lack of fulfillment once a choice was made.
Apply this to job seekers, and it begins to get interesting.
Fast-forward to today.
Employers can now post their jobs everywhere. Candidates can apply to jobs from anywhere. And, both parties now have more options at their fingertips than in any other time in history. #TooManyOptions
Due to the influx of just about everything, communication between employers and applicants has begun to erode, applicants must now do more to qualify for opportunities, and everyone has a bit of FOMO lurking in the back of their minds.
I would liken this era to OD'ing on too much cake. Or, in this case, too much chocolate cake.
When given a litany of options, coupled with muddied expectations of ever hearing back from employers, job-hunting became a numbers game, instead of an opportunity to connect and discuss your next exciting career move with your ideal employer.
And, we're merely scratching the surface.
Combine this knowledge with the fact that technology and access to the internet have become ubiquitous in today's society, and you'll really start to see where all this is headed.
Remember when a "work from home" job "opportunity" was almost certainly a scam? I do. For any Gen Z'ers out there reading this, who haven't already navigated away due to my persistent need to double space, that's fact. 💯
Technology, access to wifi, and the accessibility of laptops and web-enabled mobile devices have made it possible for us to work from, pretty much, anywhere in the world.
At first, companies were opposed to employees working remotely. In my early days working for a large corporation, I remember "remote work" more commonly being referred to as working "off-site." A quick Google Trends search seems to support my recollection, as you can view the upward and downward trends for each term in the graph.
If remote work also went by a different name in your region, add it in the comments below.
As for the shift in terminology, here's why it's significant.
Saying an employee is "off-site" suggests the employee is working from a location, other than the primary office, for a specified duration of time. The term inherently possesses a lack of permanency. A lack of flexibility. If you were off-site, you were still "on-site" at another location, often determined by the company. You were, generally, rarely ever working from home.
Today, office employees have every tool they need inside their laptops.
Millennials and Gen Z's today want to see the world. WYSE Travel Confederation reported that, of the millennials and Gen Z's that travel, "50% are undertaking experiential travel such as work abroad, language study, higher education, au pairing, and volunteering."
And, according to a Forbes article by John Pierce, Head of Recruiting at Stifel, half of all companies admit to having difficulty retaining their employees, and "70% have trouble replacing those who leave."
Well, hot dang. No wonder taking care of the employees you do have is all the rage.💡
With this ever-increasing need for personal fulfillment, plus the abundant access to job opportunities, employers now know it isn't enough to simply list that you have work/life balance and employee benefits on your website and in your offer letters. Now, you've gotta show it.
Flexibility and the opportunity to occasionally work from home have crept up in importance, higher each year, for job seekers.
The average working-age employee is more tech-savvy than ever and is fully capable of working from areas other than an office.
The rise of super-swank co-working spaces, "fully distributed" teams, the gig economy, and the thirst for choice, freedom, and flexibility, have become more prevalent than ever.
Oh, and remember that little fact earlier about technology making it easy for job seekers to find suitable employment? Well, it's only getting easier.
But the thing is, we all saw it coming.
All these trends converged to bring us to this point. The point where people and culture actually matter...more than ever.
This brings me to the purpose of this blog.
As an employer, the only way to keep your people today is to be friggin' awesome. Treat them like the human beings they are. That's why we get excited to work with cool companies. That's why we know how important communicating your company culture, benefits, compensation, needs, and opportunity are to attracting the people who are authentically moved by your mission.
The prioritization of people in the workplace is critical to the future success of your company. People want to work for Google. Why? Because they're a great place to work. Why? Because 97% of Google's employees say that they're a great place to work. Why? Because everyone knows it. Why? Because Google provides numerous tangible ways in which they value their employees, and they communicate it to the world? Bingo.
Everybody can be Google.
Okay, perhaps I'm getting a bit carried away, but you get where I'm going. Real change that shows employees how much you care — about them, their contribution to your mission, and yes, even to your bottom line — is something that can be worked on poco a poco (as is often said in Mexico).
Communicating your message in a way that touches a chord with those who align most with your company vision is critical. To do this, and do it well, we need to pool our resources and learn from one another to execute what works best for our companies.
In the modern era, corporate greed and never-ending expectations of revenue growth — month-over-month, year-over-year — is what got us into some of the people issues still prevalent today. The old regime couldn't — and wouldn't — change it. Consequently, much like bringing actionable solutions to addressing climate change, it's up to the new generation to usher in change.
Your people are your greatest asset. And now, companies must behave like it. There is no other option.
See you in a few days for our kick-off, as we take you through our journey of distilling Gallup's 215 page report on the State of the Global Workplace. We'll break it up into small, digestible pieces for you, each week.
Subscribe to our People & Culture audioblog and never miss a beat. If you have any questions, reach out. I'm happy to help.