Mounting evidence suggests that the millennials do not buy into the industrial age work methods and values so treasured by their forbears. This includes the set hours, set times and set place of work, as we might expect. But it also includes the office politics, status symbols, self-protection and presenteeism that lead Reginald Perrin to a nervous breakdown.
They are looking for trust, freedom, creativity and choice and not the sort of working lifestyle so easily disrupted by a ‘signal failure at Vauxhall’. Of course, Perrin was the embodiment of the establishment and industrial age norms, and it took a mid-life crisis to make a change.
Young people see much of Reggie (even if they don’t realise it) in their own parents lives, where working long hours with little time for family and other interests has been the norm. They do not want that for themselves.
However, precious few employers are acknowledging this shift. Large organisations like PwC, Unilever, Virgin, Microsoft, and BT have made some inroads towards better employee engagement. They are protecting their businesses by attracting and retaining the best talent. As well as sustaining the organisation, this also helps to boost productivity and save money on real estate. Sadly, though, most businesses seem barely aware there might be a problem.
Logic dictates that this is the remit of the HR department. However, most HR departments I have come across were simply admin hubs, responsible for hiring, firing, inductions, H&S and payroll. There are nods to staff welfare and development, but only insofar as it is within budget (assuming there is one) and doesn’t take staff away from their work for very long.
Of course, there are bound to be some very able and progressive HR departments, so I am not tarring everyone with the same brush, just summarising my experience.
And it leads to questions like are the HR people too narrowly focused or are they powerless, restricted as they may be by the organisation’s leaders?
So, I have a radical proposal. Why not change the name of HR from Human Resources, to Human Relationships? The term ‘resource’ seems to commodify human endeavour to a very industrial-age unit of purely economic value.
It is true that we are a resource, but the value comes from our knowledge, experience, creativity and skills, not just what we produce or what we cost.
When we think about relationships, we acknowledge the value of people working together to achieve a common goal. Relationship suggests two-way dialogue, mutual respect, feedback and joint decisions. It focuses on all aspects of each individual and looks long term at the benefits of maintaining the relationship to the greatest effect for all.
Maybe, if we think of HR as Human Relationships we will change the way we view each other. We will change the way we view employees and the work they do and the contribution they make.
Employee Engagement leads to improved performance and innovation. It can help reduce business costs and improve sales, making the business far more sustainable.
Reggie Perrin wanted to do more; to be more. He wanted to leave the daily commute and routine, be more creative and throw of those industrial age shackles. He didn’t want to be a cog in a machine with only a monetary value attached to him. He wanted to engage with the people around him, to share values and ethos and have more emotional connection.
He wanted, in other words, to build better relationships