Be yourself! Individualism in the workplace

Individualism at work
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The Plainspeak Analyst is Katherine Jones, Partner and Director of Talent Research at Mercer, the world's largest human resources consulting firm. Her job is to design and deliver insight research and services to Mercer's global clients. She was previously VP, Human Capital Management Technology Research at Bersin by Deloitte. She has a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction from Cornell University.

We often talk about the “employee” as a collective concept, created by cookie cutters or rolling down a manufacturing conveyor belt.

Employees are a group, divided, if at all, as white collar or blue, by divisions, departments, or titles. But even though it may be easy to think of employees as a collective, each is an individual, and each seeks to be regarded and respected for that individuality.

Employees want to be recognized for their own unique skills (we know because we asked them – 5400 of them across the globe).

Employees who felt they came to work energized report that their companies did indeed recognize their particular interests and skills and try to use that information in their placement into their jobs.

Disenfranchised employees, on the other hand, did not feel their companies recognized their individual talents nor try to use them in job matching. 

Why is this so hard and why should employers care?

As a new hire enters an organization that initial position may play to one aspect of the newcomer’s skillset—but perhaps not even her most significant expertise or his main interests or passion. 

And as employers, we do care—because if those skills that are unique to the individual are not recognized or tapped at work, the employee will look outside the firm for a new job. 

There are two key points for HR that are important to retaining productive employees:

  1. Avoid pigeon-holing employees. Just because Joe was hired in marketing doesn’t mean he can’t do something else equally well.  Encourage employees to look outside the department into which they were originally hired to put other skills or newly gained expertise into play. Promoting rotations for younger employees, and easing cross-organizational job changes can retain talented employees who feel stymied or plateaued in their current positions. The employee who feels his or her skillset is underutilized will not stay in your organization.
  2. Recognize and reward the employee for his or her contribution to the workplace beyond solely “doing the job.” Positive responses to good teamwork, volunteering outside of work, serving on committees or participating in extracurricular activities with colleagues may be examples where the employee exhibits a breadth of talent not tapped at work previously. Noting areas beyond the job description can be key to ascertaining the unique skills and interests of the employee and can lead to better use of those skills in the job.

We know that people go through many jobs throughout their careers. With more appealing options and career choices within the organization, employees can move within the company rather than looking outside for variety and growth opportunities.

Today’s employees do not want to be treated solely as members of a group. They want to be ”seen” at work, respected for their individuality and diversity, and rewarded for the unique contributions they make to their organizations as a whole. The implications for HR are significant as re-evaluation of learning and development, benefit and reward structures, and working environments is needed to optimize the value and productivity of each individual employee.

About Katherine Jones

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