I should have known better. I jumped on the 17.06 to Bradford Upon Avon at 17.08, thinking how lucky I had been by securing my standing spot in the vestibule on a train that must surely have been on the cusp of leaving Paddington station. 15 minutes later, we left the station, and then proceeded to crawl to Reading. A 25 minute journey took an hour, and I was fuming.
And yes, naturally, I had some fellow passengers in the vestibule who decided to have a very long, very loud conversation. They were two young guys, one I think Canadian (judging by the accent), the other British, both – ahem – geeks (I think they would happily have embraced the term, so I don’t feel I am being pejorative). And what were they talking about? Well, lots of things including cleaning ladies, the challenges of trying to maintain a faithful, monogamous relationship with a packet of Baby Bel cheeses in a shared house (apparently very difficult) and what is the optimal time for which to play a computer game (6 hours per day).
They were also talking about computers. Specifically, the lap top computers that they had been provided by their employer.
“I need to get a new laptop. The work one is shit.”
“Why don’t you just ask them for a better one?”
“I have done. They just said this is the one they have for me.”
“I’m sure if you asked Sarah in IT she’d help.”
“I’ve told them I’ll just buy one myself. That way I can be sure it will be specced right. I just need to do it – I guess they just don’t value me enough to give me a decent one.”
Now at this point I abandoned the Evening Standard crossword (21 Down: Quietly bent on getting a drink – 7 letters) and looked up. The two guys were at the most 23 years old. I’d gathered from their conversation that they had both been to university, and clearly they were now in jobs, but these were not experienced people. First jobbers. And I’ll confess that my initial thought about what had just been said was “Grow up, and don’t be so arrogant – who do you think you are? Take what you are given, work hard, show some positive attitude and get on with it.”
But, as someone who has spent a lot of time researching millennials and talking at events about them, I suddenly realised that I was failing to show the empathy that I advise my clients to show when recruiting and developing millennials. So I put myself in his shoes for a minute.
He’s graduated, relocated from another country, found a job. He is into computers, and probably has been for many years. At home, he has his own technical set-up, the quality of which is not replicated by his professional hardware. He’s in a technical job. And he can’t understand why he’s been recruited to do something, but has then been given inadequate tools.
And to him, this is a clear measure of how much – or how little – he, as an individual, is valued by his employer.
Every one of us has at some time felt under-valued, and it’s not a great feeling. In fact, it’s probably the single biggest reason why employees become disengaged. But being valued means different things to different people. Understanding this most personal of feelings is complex, but key to driving both engagement and performance.
So why do we not ask our employees and our new hires a very simple question: what would make you feel valued? Yes, for some it may just be money. But in most cases an adult question will get an adult answer, and I’m willing to bet that for all employees, not just millennials, we might be surprised by just how easy it is to create a reciprocal culture of value.
Anyway, back to that crossword. Parched – that’s it. And by the end of that journey, I really was…