New relationships at work: what young and old want

19 April 2022

Anaïs Georgelin is the founder and CEO of Somanyways, whose mission is to give meaning back to work. To achieve this, the company provides employees with the keys they need to take charge of their own career paths, and trains a new generation of managers to act on these levers. When asked about the new relationship with work, Anaïs Georgelin tells us more about what young and not-so-young people expect from their professional activity.

In my day, we didn’t need meaning to work”, “In my day, we didn’t change jobs every three years”, “Young people today are lazy, they don’t want to work anymore”. Young people today are lazy, they don’t want to work anymore”. Whether X, Y or Z, each generation that enters the job market seems to give a big kick to the anthill of our preconceived ideas. To hear us talk, it seems that each new generation is more demanding about its working conditions. These aspirations are often criticized by their elders, who don’t understand these demands and see them as laziness. But, ultimately, if we’re all someone’s Generation Z, can we really make that age distinction? Are these new aspirations for work specific to young people or shared by all? Aren’t they indicative of a global mindset shift rather than a whim of the youngest among us?

Why this idea that young people are no longer in tune with the world of work as it exists today?

Anaïs Georgelin: Because it’s partly true, and unlike their elders, who may think the same thing, they dare to express it more. It’s easier to do so when you have no children, no loans, no dependents and so on. It’s easier to follow that little voice. But that doesn’t mean that the not-so-young don’t have the same aspirations.

What exactly are these aspirations?

A.G : Thanks to the Somanyways survey, we can see that the top 3 most important criteria at work are the same, whatever the generation. There’s nothing extraordinary about these aspirations – they’re just basics. These include: enjoying a good working atmosphere, healthy, pleasant and easy relationships; being able to learn and develop; having a say, being able to express ideas and proposals, and feeling heard. We’re really talking about what makes us human: belonging, respect and development.

When it comes to the new relationships at work that are emerging, I like to look at the subject from the angle of success. In France, success in the traditional sense means a career. Today, two visions of success are becoming increasingly important: being useful to society and enjoying life. This latter vision can be translated into the “work less” trend. Successful living means living what you want to live. These two new visions of success add to the first, more traditional one, and form a more nuanced and colorful world of work.

How are companies adapting to these new plural and personal success criteria?

A.G : It’s not easy, because it requires us to rethink many aspects of our organizations. But I’m convinced that if we are to take action on this issue, we need to remember that it’s a joint responsibility: of leaders, HR, managers and employees.

At employee level, we can provide keys to help them better define what makes sense for them. Because, in the end, we don’t really know what it means to give meaning to our work. The first step is to give employees the tools they need to better define and prioritize their needs, and then do their part to make them part of their daily lives.

The second lever is managerial. We have plenty of compulsory health and safety training. But you can manage without training, as if it were innate. Yet when someone mentions problems at work, most of the time it’s the manager who’s to blame. I’m not blaming them, it’s a difficult job and I know that very well. On the other hand, I think we need to teach them to give meaning to the collective and to individuals.

It is then possible to take action at company level. The challenge for boxes is to succeed in standardizing personalization. Because it’s no longer possible to be one-size-fits-all. We don’t live in that world anymore: in society, as in consumerism, everything is personalized. But that doesn’t mean we can do things on a case-by-case basis. This can be done at the level of the field manager, who needs to be trained and authorized to personalize his or her management. At an organizational level, we’re no longer thinking in terms of a single modality (the same work rhythm for everyone), but rather in terms of two or three alternatives.

Faced with these new relationships at work, companies are finding it hard to retain their employees. How can we meet this challenge?

A.G : In view of the fragmented and ever-changing career paths we are and will be following, I don’t believe that loyalty is the right indicator for companies. Why build loyalty if it means keeping people who don’t want to be there, or keeping people you don’t want to stay. At Somanyways, we instead encourage them to work on engagement, explaining that it’s by bringing together the conditions for engagement that people will stay longer. Above all, they will have given their best and brought real added value to their work, even if they don’t stay long.

What are these conditions of commitment? In our view, there are five components: trust, transparency, congruence (being authentic), meaning and recognition. This is where we make the link between commitment and meaning: meaning enables commitment, and commitment fosters loyalty.

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