According to a study conducted in 2019 by global leadership consulting firm DDI, 57 percent of employees have left a job because of their direct leader. In 2008, Gallup discovered that it’s closer to 75 percent. Research published in Harvard Business Review highlighted an opposite yet related point: “People leave jobs, and it’s up to managers to design jobs that are too good to leave.” Employees may leave their job, but far too often, it’s as a result of a clueless and careless manager who doesn’t know how to design an engaging, meaningful role, one that plays to the strengths of that individual.
Any way you dissect the situation of employee attrition, the pandemic should be setting off alarm bells in the clocktowers of organizations everywhere. When this Covid-19 brouhaha is over, and we’re all back to some semblance of normal, I feel those leaders who failed to care about their employees throughout the pandemic—particularly Generation Z and Millennials—will be in for a rather rude awakening in late 2021 and into 2022. I foresee a mass exodus of young employees to firms (and leaders) that care more.
Organizations may not be hiring during the pandemic as they used to in 2019, but that doesn’t stop employee chatter. Questions about job cuts and more furloughs frequent the private DMs and texts of employees everywhere. Revenues are down, profits are tanking, and the general mood inside the “virtual” walls of so many teams is one of doom and despair. There’s more fun being inside the barrel at a bull rodeo right now.
But there is hope! If, as a leader, you take the time now to shift your leadership style to one that is more caring—where Millennial and Gen Z employees believe that you actually think they matter—you will no doubt be in a far superior position to retain that talent post-pandemic.
- Play Jeopardy: Ask Questions
As with the television game show where an answer is presented first, play Jeopardy and start asking questions of your younger employees? Don’t camp out in your office or your email inbox. Questions can surface gaps, and gaps can be thought of as ways to champion the ideas or thoughts of those young workers. Perhaps it’s a question to help simplify, or to seek further understanding, or maybe it’s a nifty way for you—as the leader—to engage with a team member in a more meaningful way. When used appropriately, questions can help unleash another form of caring. They can act as catalysts for clarification, something every unpretentious leader ought to employ.
- Employ Reverse MentorshipA reverse mentor offers all the goodness of having someone provide you with sage advice, but that person or persons are younger than you. As a leader, a reverse mentor can help you see through the blind spots of your age and biases. Why not ask one of your younger employees to act as a reverse mentor? Once a month, have a 45-60 minute conversation with them about issues and items that you have no clue about and were afraid to ask. Next, get your leader peers to employ the safe tactic, perhaps using other young team members from your team. The benefits are far-reaching, not to mention the installation of leadership skills for those younger mentors.
- Provide Timely Recognition
One of the easiest yet most overlooked ways to help young employees realize their value is to recognize their efforts. To recognize someone is to first understand what type of recognition they prefer. Perhaps they appreciate the public lauding, whether in person or virtually. Maybe they don’t. There are team members who do not want to see their name in bright lights. In fact, they’d likely rather be caught with their hand stuck in the vending machine. Regardless, maybe it’s a short DM or text to recognize a job well done. Perhaps you set up a special 30-minute virtual chat with the bottle of wine you sent them. However you choose to do it, make sure the recognition is timely, and that it comes from the heart. To recognize someone’s efforts is to be a caring leader.
- SOS: Ask For Help
It’s one thing to ask questions—as we have pointed out by playing Jeopardy—but it’s another to specifically request a young team member for assistance. There are undoubtedly some super smart and creative people on your team. Many of them are likely younger than you. We also know that there will be bumps in the road when achieving your team’s objectives. My advice is to treat these deviations to your plan as merely another opportunity to embrace change and ask your team for help. Instead of trying to sort out the issue on your own, swallow your pride, and involve them in the next steps. Who might help you with the unanticipated issue that popped up? It’s an example illustrating how much more connected a younger team member will feel to you (and the organization) if you ask them for help.
- Yes, Apologize
There is an argument to be made that we, as leaders, frequently make mistakes. You might miss a text or instant message from someone. You forget to upload a file to the cloud drive that a younger colleague was waiting on. The list may be endless. Thus, there are ample chances for you to apologize throughout a month. It’s the very essence of being relatable to the team and showing them you care. Saying sorry demonstrates a willingness to make a wrong known swiftly, and to take accountability for it. You’ve checked your ego at the door and are unafraid to make amends for a wrong. Saying sorry is not admitting to a character flaw; it is a skillful demonstration of self-awareness. When it’s timely and genuine, even better.
While these five tips may seem obvious, in my experience, they are the first to be forgotten. And when we forget (or blatantly ignore) the opportunity to be a more caring leader, you can rest assured that when the dust settles post-pandemic, many Millennial and Gen Z employees will be hunting for a leader and organization that genuinely cares about their well-being.
The clocktower is ringing. Can you hear it?