Let employees be themselves! Individualism in the workplace

Office workers at informal meeting

We often talk about the “employee” as a collective concept, created by cookie cutters or rolling down a manufacturing conveyor belt. Employees are a group, divided, if at all, as white collar or blue, by units, departments, or titles. But even though it may be easy to think of employees as a collective, each is an individual, and each seeks to be regarded and respected for their individuality.

Employees want to be recognized for their own unique skills (we know because we asked them – 5,400 of them across the globe responded to our 2017 Talent Trends survey). 

Employees who felt they came to work energized report that, indeed, their companies did recognize their particular interests and skills and try to use that information when placing them in their jobs. Disenfranchised employees, on the other hand, did not feel their companies recognized their individual talents nor did they try to use them in job matching.

Why is it so hard and why should employers care? As a new hire enters an organization, that initial position may play to one aspect of the newcomer’s skillset—but perhaps not even her most significant expertise or his main interests or passion.

And as employers, we do care—because if those skills that are unique to the individual are not recognized or tapped at work, the employee will look outside the firm for a new job.

There are two key points for HR that are important to retaining productive employees:

  1. Avoid pigeon-holing employees. Just because Joe was hired in marketing doesn’t mean he can’t do something else equally well. Encourage employees to look outside their department to put other skills or newly gained expertise to use. Promoting rotations for younger employees and easing cross-organizational job changes can be effective tactics for retaining talented employees who feel stymied or plateaued in their current positions. Employees who feel their skillsets are underutilized will not stay in your organization.
  2. Recognize and reward employees for their contribution to the workplace beyond solely “doing the job.” Positive responses to good teamwork, volunteering outside of work, serving on committees or participating in extracurricular activities with colleagues may be examples where employees exhibit a breadth of talent not tapped at work previously. Noting areas beyond the job description can be key to ascertaining the unique skills and interests of employees and can lead to better use of those skills in the job.

We know that people go through many jobs throughout their careers. With more appealing options and career choices within the organization, employees can move within the company rather than looking outside for variety and growth opportunities.

Today’s employees do not want to be treated solely as members of a group. They want to be ”seen” at work, respected for their individuality and diversity, and rewarded for the unique contributions they make to their organizations as a whole. The implications for HR are significant as re-evaluation of learning and development, benefit and reward structures, and working environments is needed to optimize the value and productivity of each individual employee.

Katherine Jones
by Katherine Jones

Partner and Director of Talent Research at Mercer

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