Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Tech skills: Upgrade your job

Want a happy team at work? Make sure you don't forget this vital ingredient

Money is important, but it's not the only factor when choosing an employer - and deciding whether to stay.

Colleagues working together

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While getting paid is always going to be a key factor in keeping us motivated, it's only one of the factors that keep us happy at work. 

Cognizant's Center for the Future of Work's recently released survey, entitled 'The Purpose Gap', shows that professionals aged between 20 and 40 now value passion for the work they do (59%) over money (49%).

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Eduardo Plastino, director of the Center for the Future of Work, says the results highlight a big shift in priorities: "Values aren't static – they're always evolving. We shouldn't be surprised if younger people change their preferences."

So, what's prompted this shift in perceptions towards the importance of passion and purpose? Plastino says one crucial factor is what's happening outside the workplace.

Younger people have lived through an unprecedented series of crises during the past decade from a global pandemic to ongoing climate change, plus economic uncertainty and geopolitical instability.

Plastino says this new generation has also grown up using social media. They have an opportunity to engage with people around the globe on topics – justice, sustainability, equality, for example – that really matter to them.

Their emotional response to these topics is affecting how they feel about work. At a time when much of the world seems to be headed in the wrong direction, young people feel as if they want to do something that helps to change things for the better.

Expectation vs delivery

Unfortunately, the research suggests many employers are failing to help employees satisfy these desires through their work. The survey refers to a widening gap between what young people expect from employers and what their bosses are delivering.  

Almost two-thirds (65%) of young people say it's extremely important for their employer to positively impact society, yet only 18% strongly believe they are living their day-to-day purpose at work.

According to Plastino, the research suggests that employers often struggle to understand what passion and purpose means for young employees. As well as failing to deliver on big-ticket items like sustainability and inclusivity, the research says employers fail to give workers a sense of empowerment through they work they do.

"They're not feeling as if they are in an environment where they are growing, their contribution is valid and they're not feeling that their managers are listening to their concerns," he says.

At this point, it might be easy to take a step back and think 'so what?' 

How are young people – who have limited experience of how the world of work operates – going to challenge the approach of employers that have established and entrenched ways of operating? Why would bosses listen to these inexperienced upstarts? 

The answer to those questions is simple, says Plastino: employees have no choice but to start paying attention to their demands: "Younger people really have the power in their hands. Workers in general have much more leverage than used to be the case."

Evidence from the job market supports that sentiment. In February, US businesses had 11.3 million job openings to fill, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey. 

Many workers have enjoyed the shift to remote working in the past two years. They're aware of the myriad of new openings and are looking to change jobs if their current employer doesn't satiate their requirements. 

As a result, the so-called Great Resignation remains in full effect – the number of Americans quitting their jobs rose to 4.4 million in February. 

Plastino says employers that don't act to stem this tide face major problems. Skilled staff are hard to find and expensive to replace. What's more, a paucity of younger talent today will mean company's lack the next-generation leaders they need tomorrow.

Leadership in a buyer's market

So, what can managers do to keep their professionals happy? Plastino says senior executives must lead from the front – they can't afford to be blasé about the Great Resignation. 

Rather than simply demanding that people return to the office, for example, they should think very carefully about how hybrid working can provide benefits for employers and employees

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Internal communication strategies that deliver a sense of empowerment are also crucial. Companies must train their managers to be good listeners and partners to the people they manage, working with them proactively to demonstrate how they can grow professionally in their current roles.

And part of this is making the connection between what individual employees do and the broader mission of the organisation.

Alejandro Massuet IT manager at Supernus Pharmaceuticals  recognises that his team's role – maintaining reliable IT services – is very different to the work of scientists in the company's labs who produce pharmaceuticals. 

However, Massuet stresses to his staff that people across the business wouldn't be able to work as effectively as they do if it wasn't for the hard work of IT professionals. He says that emphasis helps to build the passion and purpose of his team.

"We try to try to take care of computer incidents faster for our users – who in our case are clinical folks, scientists, quality management specialists, regulatory affairs teams, and our salesforce," he says.

"I try to connect my team to a sense of why their work matters and to feel engagement in the fact that what we're providing means we're helping society."

It's a similar story at life sciences giant Novartis, says Loïc Giraud, global head of digital platform and product delivery. Like Supernus, the company operates in a sector where passion and purpose helps produce life-changing results.

Giraud says people often want to work in life sciences because they know they can do something good for someone. Yet, ultimately, it's up to managers to ensure their professionals are empowered and happy – regardless of company or sector.

"I think it's about how you take people and make sure that they work in projects that they feel passionate about and that they work with people who have the same mindset," he says. "You need to empower teams to do what they do best. And I think this is what we've done."

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