As we approach the third decade of the 21st century (in which the flying cars are clearly late), we have enough employee engagement data, artificial intelligence and social media platforms to remotely manage an effective global workforce. However, many senior leaders don’t see the immediate possibilities.
A surprisingly high percentage of Generation Y and Generation X managers struggle to understand how technology can dramatically improve their ability to connect on an emotional level. Additionally, people in their 40s and above often think of technology as something that distracts from relationships, when in fact it has the ability to strengthen them by creating greater engagement.
According to the Harvard Study of Adult Development,1 close relationships are strong predictors of health, happiness and success. One of the longest studies of human behavior, this 75-year project followed 268 Harvard students throughout their careers, relationships and retirement to find that close ties with others correlated strongly with reported fulfillment and success.2
Applying that idea to people management in the work world, we can expect that relationship can be a factor in retaining talented workers and getting great results from our workforce. But how do we build closeness and engagement with a post-millennial, Generation Z demographic that on the surface seems to have their faces buried in their devices? One good stare into the dead-eyed gaze of a 17-year-old at the coffee shop can scare us into believing that constant screen time has turned kids who love to kill video-game zombies into actual zombies themselves.
That kind of thinking is a grave mistake. When we overlook the relationship-building opportunities that technology affords with younger generations, we miss out on great potential. The truth is that members of Generation Z are the most socially interactive, relationship-based generation ever, with more friendships that they tend to value as the most important part of their life. I’m not talking about people who have 100,000 Facebook friends – those people never leave the house. I’m talking about young people involved in face-to-face interaction on a regular basis.
They understand what anyone over 22 years old may not: that technology is literally an extension of our humanity. It is part of our personal and business evolution. It will improve the positive aspects of human behavior and better connect us to each other. That sounds pretty dramatic. I don’t doubt that someone way back when said something similar about railroads and the telephone. But let’s view some examples of how modern technology drives employee loyalty.
- Prospects and personal benefit. First, it’s about perspective. If you believe, as Gen Z does, that your smartphone is an extension of your hand and that technology is a key source to almost any action, then automation looks like part of your future, not the dawn of your demise. From this mindset, it follows that advanced technology equals a better future. If you can provide that “improved” future, and your people believe they’re better off for being in it, then you have loyalty.
- Time management, group instruction and morale building. With Snapchat and similar platforms, you can connect personally or send group videos that allow you to manage time dramatically better, give clear instruction, or dole out public praise for a task well done, for example. You make a personal connection that goes far beyond texting and email.
- The fantastical meets the practical. It’s perhaps futuristic-sounding but true that Google may manufacture driverless cars with 3-D printers and then show us ads so we can shop during our hands-off commute. Yet, on the practical side, such innovations will also offer an opportunity for employers to provide commute-time perks while offering safe transportation for the workforce.
In short, embracing technological progress promotes engagement and commitment. You don’t create loyalty by trying to convince people that the old way was better. (“You know the good old days — parachute pants, cholera and the Civil War.”) Nor do you create loyalty by suggesting that the new way will rob us of our uniqueness, all looking the same in our futuristic tight-fitting, zip-up sweat suits that are only flattering when worn by extremely fit movie stars. You do it by making sure your employees know you are well prepared to embrace the inevitable and help them get the maximum benefit from it.
Building loyalty requires that you give your employees more than flexibility, money and praise. It’s about making sure they know that you view automation and technology as part of their specific future with you.
1 Liz Mineo, “Good Genes Are Nice, But Joy Is Better,” Harvard Gazette (2017 April 11). Available at http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2017/04/over-nearly-80-years-harvard-study-has-been-showing-how-to-live-a-healthy-and-happy-life/.
2 Scott Stossel, “What Makes Us Happy, Revisited,” The Atlantic (May 2013). Available