ARE YOUR EMPLOYEES JAZZED BY THEIR JOB?
Updated: Apr 26
My elementary school had a small vegetable garden where, if you consistently behaved well in class, you could help grow cabbage and carrots for coleslaw. Random, I know, what 8-year-old likes coleslaw? When I was in high school, I attended debate tournaments almost every weekend to practice speeches that I honed for months. Yeah, I know, pretty cool. And in college, I was involved in any and every campus organization that would take me.
I grew up in a time that asks young people to go above and beyond. There are sports, extracurriculars, student jobs, awards, community service. From kindergarten to undergrad, if you're not doing the absolute most, you're not doing enough.
So, imagine my surprise when I found out that people just ... stopped going the extra mile when they entered the workforce. There are no prizes, no teams, no extra credit. No one is engaged at work like I had been in school throughout my whole life, and it was a weird adjustment.
I know I’m not alone. Across the board, Millennials and Gen-Z workers have grown to feel dissatisfied at work. A recent Gallup pollreported that the percentage of employees under the age of 35 who self-identified as “engaged” with their workplace dropped by 6% over the last three years. Worse, the percentage of these young employees who self-identified as “actively disengaged” went up by 6%.
There is even a term for this. Coined by a 20-something engineer on TikTok, "quiet quitting" is loosely defined as “when you're not outright quitting your job, but you're quitting the idea of going above and beyond.” The term has completely taken off online, with articles, tweets, and videos flooding the internet with stories of just how disengaged young people are at work.
If young employees are not engaged with the company they work for, then they’ll feel like they have no skin in the game when it comes to producing quality work. They do not see themselves as a part of the team and will just show up to do the bare minimum. It’s just easier.
The thing about hard work, though, is that it feels a whole lot better. Everyone knows it. But young people are asking themselves now: Why pour so much time and energy into my company when it feels like the same time and energy isn’t being invested in me? The ways of the old workplace have changed. Employees are searching for more now, and this will only continue to grow as the younger generations join the workforce.
Quiet quitting has taken off as a direct result of young people not finding satisfaction at work the way they’ve expected to for their whole lives. The solution lies right there, by giving them more to care about within a company.
According to Forbes, employee engagement is “the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals.” Employees should feel like their work goes beyond hours and paychecks; it’s about contributing toward something bigger for the benefit of the whole. It’s about making a real investment in a job and taking pride in what you do. Engaging these young people the way they’ve been trained to be engaged protects you from ever even having to worry about them not caring. You’ll be able to see it, feel it.
American outdoor clothing brand Patagonia knows how to do this right. The company has reported just a 4% turnover rate in recent years. For a company with more than 1,500 employees, this number is staggeringly low. When asked what they are doing differently, the Chief Human Resources Officer cited “authenticity.” The values that sit at the heart of Patagonia are apparent in everything they do: things like activism, sustainability, storytelling. But the key is that those same values should also live in the hearts of its staff.
Patagonia’s own employees are activists. They are encouraged to participate in peaceful environmental protests. If employees get put in jail for these efforts, the company will, amazingly, pay their bail, legal fees, and compensation for time off. The connection that their employees have to their mission goes beyond happiness or productivity; it creates a real bond between what they do and why they do it.
At RWA, we have experience launching employee engagement efforts from the ground up. One of our clients, Excell Refrigeration, wanted a re-brand that their employees would buy into. Instead of management rolling out a new logo, tagline, mascot, etc., without any input from the company, it was put into the hands of the employees with an internal campaign called the “Cool Quest.”
Excell announced the formation of an employee engagement team. Anyone in the company could join, and all ideas were welcomed. The goal was for the team to brainstorm how they could get more involved with the company and feel more passionately about coming into work. The network of employees planned events together and started community outreach programs. Toy drives and volunteering were just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the ways they could give back as a group.
For another piece of the program, “The Mascot Challenge,” each employee submitted entries for a new company mascot to go along with the updated branding that our agency created. The winner of the competition received a $500 Visa gift card and bragging rights to the new face of Excell Refrigeration. Hand-drawn sketches, creative descriptions, and out-of-the-box ideas were flowing in. As a team, Shivers the Penguin, illustrated by an Excell employee, was ultimately decided upon as the new mascot. Complete with a name tag and tool belt, Shivers embodied the new “Cool Culture” that our client was trying to achieve through rebranding.
Seeing their thoughts and opinions valued allowed employees to take more ownership in the brand. The ultimate goal is that this, in turn, translates to a more positive and efficient workplace.
I remember when I was a kid that everyone in class was so well behaved, because they all wanted to go outside and plant veggies. Engagement works, and it’s not just for young people. Everyone wants to feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves. You don’t have to be fighting climate change to energize your people. Just show them you care, and they will too.