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Will investment in people bear results and what does Gen-Z want from employers?

When we make investments with our money - whether it be in shares, mutual funds, real estate or in other assets - we are always wishful, from the outset, that we do it in a way that makes us rich (or makes us more money). We may or may not make more (monies and in fact, we may end up losing some or all our monies depending on what we invested in), however, the expectations are obvious throughout. To make more we need to invest more and take risks.

If this is the case for financial investment, can we extend this logic to people and consider them investments? The fundamental question to analyse here is if people (especially Millennials and GenZ) fall in the category of investments, what risks should we take and what should we expect from them?

To clarify, before we begin, people, or investments in developing people, are not transactions as they carry with them a few very important things: emotions, aspirations and expectations. Feelings and feedback are part of the growth process.

Just to strengthen the argument to support investment in people we need to understand the context of what's going on with them in general, in Financial Services, and that too with the younger lot - the new breed of resources that work in Financial Resources (broadly comprising Banks, FinTechs, and Technology Companies).

Investment in people is not just about throwing monies and expecting productive returns always. As people carry emotions, expectations and aspirations, it's much more than creating a productive workforce. Cultivation of unique cultures, creation of positive workplaces and environments that foster innovation, getting recognition for the work they do and building and growing legacies for people to emulate are just some of the priceless bye-products of such investments.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs is in some ways authentic in terms of providing clues in terms of where to invest with people to enhance their motivation and dictate their behaviour. However, for employees in Financial Services, physiological needs have been replaced with psychological needs as people have moved out (or moving out of) of the zone of coming to work just for food, shelter and biological needs. Also, some of the elements that define each hierarchy have changed considerably over the years. See the picture below for the new theory of needs:

As we can see, currently people view Psychological needs as the bedrock of their basic needs for being successful in any organisation. The current generation and the future ones now emphasise on

- Independence of work

- Money which they want to see NOW

- Choices to do certain things without being given instructions

- Mental Wellness

The next-gen wants independence in work. They do not want to be told and spoon-fed about how they need to get work done. They may ask for help but almost everyone wants independence.

They want money as a psychological comfort that they get paid in proportion to the input they put into their work or the value they bring to the table. They need money (read pay or salaries) that they can see and feel NOW rather than later. Their safety valve is also in the NOW.

Employees prefer and would like employers to give them choices as they progress in their careers. Choices about when they come in and when they go out. Choices about where they work from - home, office or elsewhere, etc.

The current breed does not want anyone (forget about employers) to bother them much about their physical health, looks, eating habits, personal lives etc. However, they want employers specifically to focus on the work environment and extensively on their mental well-being. People do not want excessive stress at any cost. Also, bringing inclusivity in the workplace helps employees find their own space and this also leads to their mental well-being.

This would mean employers as investors, more than ever, need to be always connected to what's happening in the market around the world and not just where they operate. Being informed helps them stay invested in a better way.

The Safety needs of the next-gen are currently manifested as below:

- Family Support when needed

- The liberty to fail

- Developing new skills

Family support systems are taken and assumed for granted, even today at least in India. However, what defines employees' safety needs from their families is the support they need from their families to back their professional and personal decisions and choices.

Employees want the liberty to fail (and fail-safe). They feel it's part of growing up in any organisation's culture. They do not want employers to judge them quickly or after failures. This requires maturity on the part of both the employers and the employees.

The safety needs also are pivoted on knowledge and awareness gained by employees as they progress in their careers. This would translate to developing newer skills at the pace of changes happening in the market or at least every quarter or every six months. The more employees develop newer skills, they are happy to compromise on pay and other factors that pull them from outside.

Love and Belonging Needs continue to shape the behaviours of employees. However, the elements that defined Love and Belonging have got re-defined over the last three decades.

- Fun@Work

- Friends

- Social Networking and Social Media

- Rewards

The folks that currently belong to the Millennials, Gen-Z and others (as and when they get defined) want to enjoy their work and so having fun@work is a natural expectation. The definition of what is fun may vary from sector to sector and from company to company. However, the simple message they all share is that they do not want monotony. While employers cannot invent newer jobs every day, they can sustain lots of fun initiatives at the workplace.

Friends at work, or in the office, play an important part in shaping the social behaviours of employees. While friends do not necessarily have to be soul-mates but need to exist to bring a sense of belongingness to folks at the workplace. This also helps develop a culture in the Org.

Social networking is another important belongingness need. While social media helps people network, tribes and communities within office spaces help foster a sense of belongingness amongst employees. Posting on LinkedIn, Twitter or Instagram about one's place of work is a matter of pride and if done in the right way helps a person bring out his affinity towards his employer or company.

Rewards are an integral part of the belonging need and an employer invested in people can use this to build a sense of affinity. While the actual quantum of the reward is secondary, the primary driver remains the act itself.

Investments to make the employees belong to employers' workplace and showing them some love along the way helps build and nurture loyal employees

Everyone wants to be a leader and so becoming an actual leader remains aspirational at some level. In the world of instant fame in social media and otherwise, Leadership needs cannot be understated.

- Teams

- Empowerment

- Awards

- Recognition

Everyone wants a team (as in everyone wants to be a Manager). While most times, folks are in denial there is no shying away from the fact that Teams are an important hierarchical need in the growth chart of an employee. Having their teams give people the signal that they are progressing well.

While teams are important, what's even more critical, in terms of a need, is empowerment. Empowerment works perfectly in tandem with teams. Just imagine leading a Platoon in any army and not being able to take critical decisions in war situations. So empowerment has to be provided to people to execute jobs while managing teams or important tasks on hand.

Awards and Recognition go hand in hand. The subtle difference is that while recognition cements one's stature within the company or outside, as a leader or an expert, an award is more tangible and visible and helps people associate with the work they have done either alone or with their teams. For example, reaching some milestone in a year or comparison to peers, or competitors, can fetch one an award either within the company or in some industry-recognised award ceremonies. However, recognition is more like getting invited to talks or seminars as a speaker.

Leadership and creating leaders are specific focus areas where employers need to spend a lot of time and energies

The last area where employers need to remain invested is to satisfy the Ego needs of employees. Employees and anyone for that matter would like to be recognized as Role Models or Brand Ambassadors. However, employers will have to create cultures that foster the creation of such Role Models or Brand Ambassadors.

To Conclude:

Companies and employers with agenda to invest in people need to start investing in each of these areas above, in a structural way.

Once these investments commence, it's equally imperative for employers to start nurturing and tracking them.

Fruits start to grow much later and so they need to be patient. As much as simple as it may sound there is no gain without pain and yes we will have to monitor these investments like how any investor would monitor his portfolio.

Sometimes they will have to provide interventions to eliminate laggards (poor performers) and bad stock (toxic elements, politics and conflicts).

Ravishankar Gopalan


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