How do we build a happier and engaged workplace? If companies knew the answer to this, then global engagement rate would not have been as low as 13% as it is now. Some spoke about breach of psychological contract as the main factor that tips the balance to employees leaving their jobs. Could it be the reason for the lack of engagement, too? In light of the global decline in employee engagement, it is important to revisit the new social contract in employment.
I began my career during the time of lifetime employment, when employees get settled, develop knowledge and skills through training and education, expand competencies through a series of transfers and promotions – albeit slowly sometimes – within the same organization. Job enrichment, cross training and job rotation, were a thing then. Companies look for ways to develop talent and help employees grow within the company. There is a great value for loyalty related to continuity and consistency in work quality. Seniority is king and organizations regard older employees as vanguards of company culture and history. Companies reward longevity financially and socially.
Of course, this was the time of economic protectionism when countries negotiate bilateral economic ties with a view to increase trade while still protecting its domestic market. In the advent of globalization that resulted to a borderless economy, the world of work dramatically changed and so did the social contract between employer and employees. Companies are not able to commit to lifetime employment anymore but only to utilitarian contracts. Employees are no longer able to commit to company loyalty but only to opportunistic engagement.
In as much corporations have rendered themselves agile and able to adapt to constant changes that made restructuring, downsizing, reorganization, or retrenchment sexy, employees have also evolved in their outlook. We could somehow see this change in attitude in the decline of engagement at work. With the loss of security in employment came the loss of company loyalty. People react to the fear of potential loss of job through a constant search for opportunities elsewhere. With the transitory nature of employer-employee relationship came the shift of value toward work-life balance, to taking charge of one’s own development, and to creative career transitions.
Some companies like Google and Zappos have built their organizations based on the new social contract. It was easier for them because they were founded in the globalized economy. How can the much older and traditional companies cope with the decline in workplace engagement? The younger generations like the millenials are already adapted to constant change in their careers and they are better at juggling many things at the same time. They know what they want and they’re out to get them. However, a sector of the global workforce are still part of the older generations, largely at the tail end of the baby-boomer generation. How can companies apply a segregated approach to reach out to the ever increasingly diverse workforce?