Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Has Social Media Changed Our Sense of Loyalty to Employers?

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Over two-thirds of workers feel unhappy or disengaged at work.
I have a theory that the Internet and social media age have, in part, changed the employment landscape dramatically since about 1995. I've touched on the idea briefly in an earlier blog about old professional vs. new professional behavior and several other articles. Let me explain.

In the IT community especially, there is a mindset that all IT professionals are job hoppers and that employers are happy to have workers without all of the hassle surrounding on-boarding someone for full time employment. To a certain extent it's true as the nature of the work dictates this perception; meaning, project ramp ups cause a need for temporary help to control fluctuations in workloads.

There are still tenured employees in IT and many workers that are happy to stay with a company long term. There are also companies who really desire to keep top talent and loathe the 'free agent' market. I deal with both types of companies and candidates in IT staffing. This is not an IT only phenomenon. You can see it happening in virtually every industry around the globe.

I've come across several articles about employee happiness, productivity, and what companies need to do to keep employees happy, engaged, and thereby more productive. Elaine Pofeldt wrote an interesting article about the importance of keeping employees happy last week for Forbes. She says many successful business owners and CEOs are concerned about how happy their employees are, going as far as giving free yoga classes at work, bringing in consultants to help them learn to battle stress with the mind or how to achieve a healthy work-life balance.

One might say that the recession is to blame for the current employment market. Pofeldt says this isn't necessary the case and that CEOs don't have time to think about people when they're under constant pressure to make their numbers every quarter. In fact, about two-thirds of the global workforce is unhappy or disengaged at work, regardless of whether or not they're in a growth economy or one battered by recession.  

I’m curious, and haven’t done all of the research, but 20 years ago were employees, as a whole, less engaged and productive because companies didn’t have all the current perks?  Or did people just accept things as they were and did little to change it? Are employees more disengaged now because they know that there are companies out there that do care about happiness and value their employees?
I imagine that the average tenure decrease has a lot more to do with employee disengagement and unhappiness than the perks. 

People don’t like change. Even people who say they thrive on change don’t like change; they just like the consistency of having new things.  I know it sounds funny but, it's human nature to settle in. Settling in might mean staying at one place with the same familiar faces and similar but progressively increasing responsibilities. Settling in might also mean enjoying constant new challenges and being exposed to new industries.  To those of us who prefer the 'traditional' type of settling in, it’s hard to imagine the latter being considered as such. For those of the latter type, they don’t find comfort settling into a routine; they consider it settling for something.  There’s a difference.

Have newer generations found that constant change is their way of settling into a routine?  Are we, as a whole, no longer willing to settle for things as they are?

The Internet and social media age have changed the way we relate to one another. I am of the belief that it has also changed the way we think about the world. It used to be that our view of the world was molded by schooling, newspapers, and network news anchors. Now we have access to information in an instant from around the globe and even casual online relationships can have more influence on us than we think.

Paul Herr discusses the important role of emotion in our decision making and how human's possess 'a sophisticated form of social bonding that some psychiatrists refer to as 'cathexis' in his popular book, Primal Management. Although Herr's goal is to explain how company leaders can transform their organization into a highly proficient super-organism; I think our overall happiness is influenced by what we see in our social media clans as well.   

I think technology and social media and the Internet itself are a big part of this workforce transformation. Everyone knows what median benefits and pay others are getting because it's all available online. (Just look at salary.com.) It's human nature to want what you don't have and to emulate others. It's hard for businesses to remain opaque to the world these days because they're always one Tweet, blog, or Facebook post away from having the game change instantly. Workers want transparency from their company. They want the latest news and want to feel like a valued member of the team.

It used to be that one only found out about job or a company by reading the paper, through a close friend, a phone call, or from a help wanted sign. Now we're on LinkedIn and Facebook. We can actively mine our friend lists for opportunities. You can post or privately mail connections that you’re looking and what you're looking for. And recruiters are looking for you online too. Their job was all about referrals, newspaper ads, and cold calls 20 years ago. Today, you can reach so many more people. Now there's less work, instant gratification, and instant results: on both sides.

I believe broader interconnectivity and access to more data, when combined our basic emotional needs as humans, have all contributed to creating less loyal workforces. They jury is still out but, with two thirds of workers reporting they are unhappy and disengaged, I'm tempted to lean in the direction that employers need to take employee happiness into consideration if they are to be successful.

What do you think?

Josh Kaplan writes on various subjects including management, information technology breakthroughs, healthcare IT recruitment and innovations, big data, IT staffing and recruitment, and technical news and trends.