Note: The views expressed here are personal experiences from someone who has been through hell and back. So don’t generalize but use it as a guide or reference. It’s a long but candid & valuable read.
TL;DR – If you want to hire top-tier talent, be a flexible, purposeful, and ego-less workplace. No one wants to spend most of their waking time in an environment that will drain them emotionally and mentally.
Like many in my demographic (I’m considered a Millennial), we came behind parents born during the Baby Boomer generation. The Boomers followed the path that worked for them: ‘go to school or straight to work, get married, work 30 years, raise kids, then retire’. Then during our upbringing, some preached those exact words. In the grand scheme of things, that’s not a bad journey to take, and many of those milestones we (Millennials) consider a part of our personal goals. At some point, many of us hit a wall in our lives, and everything our parents preached seemed more of a nuisance than enjoyable. Or some, like myself, had parents who were extremely honest about life and told us all of that could wait, go live your purpose instead.
Then the light bulb went off.
Many of us realized we wanted more out of life, and the revolution began.
In today’s article, I will help you understand what the new century employee is looking for in a workplace. This isn’t a rebellious article (or maybe it is, depending on your stance). I’m trying to help shed light on what top talent (or any talent) is looking for when pursuing a job & what will make them stay.
Flexible Work Culture
The one place we all spend most of our time and energy is work. My dad, by trade, was a machinist and worked in manufacturing. I remember many times as a young boy, going to work with him and sitting in his office, and watch him delegate & produce. I was in awe at how he would maneuver through the warehouses and work as the job was second nature. He was a people person. Even to this day, many people tell me stories of how great of a leader he was. But most didn’t see him coming home at late hours or super early mornings having to leave & be away from his family to provide. Or how exhausted he would be after working 10 to 12 hour days then try to live life. Some days he did, and some days he was too tired. Then the inevitable happened…he passed away.
He and my mom were avid travelers. Mostly, they made road trips to surrounding areas to escape life and enjoy their time together. My dad was the only person to make it out of the country between the two of them. He had to live in Japan for three months on a management training assignment to open a new manufacturing plant in our hometown. A considerable accomplishment, but again he was only there for work. He experienced a lot for a county boy from a small town in Alabama. Then at the peak of his career, he passed away. The biggest lesson I received from his untimely passing was that life is VERY short. He never got a chance to see retirement. Also, in an irony of fate, my mother passed away seven years later, two months shy of retirement. To sum it up, both of them gave their all to work (and were good at it), raised three kids but didn’t get a chance to pursue their dreams or see retirement.
My generation has seen this story too much, which brings me to my first point: we look for companies with a flexible work culture. Many of our elders dedicated a lot of time and energy to a job when they could have spent some of that same effort pursuing their dreams. Now that we are in the workforce, we look for a flexible employer. I’m a dad of twin girls & happily married. Two of my major priorities in life are to be a present husband and father. My parents did the damn thing and were there every step of the way for the three of us. Much of their sacrifice was at the expense of denying their pursuits (which is noble & greatly appreciated). My most meaningful message now is occupational independence. While I chose the extreme (entrepreneurship), the goal is not to be tied down to a job so much that I neglect my personal life.
Valuable talent also looks for the same with an employer. We want to work, and most don’t have a problem getting up every day and being productive. But we don’t want that to be the end all be all. We value our relationships, how precious life is, and how short life is. Some of the things we look for in a flexible work culture are:
- Flexible hours – Great talent doesn’t oppose a “40 hour” work week, but most can accomplish this same work in a shorter time frame. Instead, we prefer that deadlines are set, then we will knock out the work for you. We want to look good professionally so that you can look good too.
- Remote work – By trade, I’m a programmer. At the time of this writing, I’m sitting on a couch with a MacBook, playing music in my headphones (The Off-season by J.Cole), relaxing in Nike shorts, a pair of Jordans, and a snapback. The beauty of my career is the ability to work wherever I want. Meanwhile, many of my friends whose job isn’t that flexible still have to show up every day in an office when they could still do their work from home. The COVID pandemic has exposed what many of us have said about the workplace. If your job does not require client/customer-facing interactions & it isn’t mission-critical to be in the office, it can be performed remotely. Whether it’s fully remote or 1-2 days a week, many of us look for this flexibility to have a suitable work-life balance.
- Sustainable pay – As a girl dad, POC, and husband to a career woman, the topic of pay equality will always be an issue for me. The core of who I am is fairness on all fronts. If you can perform, there shouldn’t be a disparity of pay regardless of who you are. The only difference should be the level of skill & degree of difficulty. We all want to earn a living that will allow us to live life comfortably and provide for our families somehow. The most significant debt that many in my generation incurred is student loan debt (myself included). I attended both undergrad and grad school. I managed to escape undergrad without any debt, thanks to my dad’s company providing tuition assistance programs. But my ambitious idea of attending grad school was paid for by Uncle Sam & he is circling back to collect. Like many, we have to budget to make sure bills are paid and pay off debt. Inflation, greed, and many other factors play into this. I’m not an economist, but I did graduate from undergrad with a business degree. We are bearing the brute force of bad financial decisions along with greed and capitalism. So the one place we look for some relief is to have a livable salary that will still allow us to enjoy life. No, we are not asking for a million dollars a year to only work one day out of the month (if that exists, though, send me the job application). We don’t want to decide between getting gas for our car or cutting back on groceries because our paycheck is spread thin.
Referencing my parents again, my dad’s trade was a machinist, and my mom’s work was for child advocacy. Based on praise from their peers, both were great at what they did & even years after they have passed on, I still get many people telling me stories of how great of leaders they were. If you ever got a chance to know them personally, you would know what their true passions were.
My dad was born in a small town called Gurley, Alabama. A town that if you didn’t know existed, you would never know where it is without Google Maps. His passion was gardening and farming. He could grow any vegetable or fruit you could imagine. I spent my childhood summers with my cousins at my grandmother’s house, picking from the garden. You name it, he could grow it. So much that he would give away a lot of what he grew because he was that good and never asked for a dime. His purpose was to help as many people as he could. He was a man of big stature but as gentle as they come.
My mom was born in Chicago, Illinois. A girl of grit and fire but a heart bigger than the world could describe. Growing up in church, she was our youth director for most of my life and thrived at this position. To this day, I have many surrogate siblings because they considered her their second mother (and the same goes for my dad). Her passion, though, was decorating. She had that creative mind to put a design show on HGTV to shame (no exaggeration). She could draw and organize better than anyone I knew. Her goal after retirement was to go all-in on this dream.
Like I said earlier, though, neither got a chance to pursue their passions because of their untimely passings. I vividly remember in grad school while out jogging during the morning commute hours and could see the zombie look on other people’s faces. To tie this all back in, many people are searching for work that has a purpose. If we are to spend a huge chunk of our time dedicated to working, why not spend it doing something we love doing? Many are stuck in “the three S’s of hygiene” cycle then plan life around it. If you want us to dedicate our time and energy to your cause, let it be something worth doing. When our time comes, we all would like to say we worked on things that made us feel fulfilled. This is also the same lesson that we all will teach the next generation, and we don’t want to let them down.
The worse place is to be in a workplace where those who consider themselves in charge have an ego bigger than the Earth is wide. After finishing undergrad and getting a job working in a telecom company in customer service, I was given the opportunity to become a mentor. An element of the program is shadowing leadership and learning the ropes. It was a very valuable time because it molded me professionally and polished my grit in the workplace. My work ethic is unmatched, so you’ll never know me to be a slacker, but to attain heights greater than your current level, you must learn from those who are where you want to be. I made some valuable connections during that time. But one of the biggest lessons I learned is how NOT to lead. I met some of the most egotistical people during that time. I do not take it as a bad experience, it was a lesson that I took detailed notes on. Foolish pride is highly counterproductive. Having a title doesn’t make you better than someone else, it makes you more responsible (or a great liar, but we’ll save that for a different convo).
The worse thing to have is a boss (because they aren’t a leader) whose pride is tied to their success. I celebrate my accomplishments but embrace my lessons (that’s what I call losses) and failures more. The reason is that you learn more from losses than winning. It also is an excellent pruning opportunity when you lose. It’s similar to using sandpaper on wood. Polishing an unfinished product to become purposeful. When a boss’s pride is tied to their success, your culture is also tied to the same ego. Hopefully, when things don’t go well (and this will happen at some point), they are not sore losers because it will not be fun. No one wants to work with or do work at all with someone like that. Now I fully support taking healthy pride in your work and holding yourself accountable for your actions. You shouldn’t slouch. But you shouldn’t also feel like you are on eggshells when working. Every single failure shouldn’t be met with critical feedback. All of us are winging life. We are learning as we go. Don’t punish someone for learning. Only correct those whose character doesn’t align with your values (you should have weeded them out during the interview process anyways – reference the good liar statement above).
This isn’t a definitive list. I do think these three points will set a firm foundation for prosperity in your workplace that great talent can enjoy. Everyone wants to earn a good living, live a purposeful life, and love those who love us. The most significant chunk of our time is spent working. Why not spend that time doing something you love doing and earning a good living doing it. As the old lesson goes, the person taking their last breath wishes they did more of what they loved rather than how much money they made.
How do you feel? Drop me a line, and let’s discuss this.
All the best!