“Bee” Smart Leadership
Wish your employer would treat you like a rock star? Chances are you're being treated more like a worker bee. And that's not good.Instead of nurturing talents and giving employees the resources to “transfer more pollen” in the corporate landscape, many managers are sacrificing development in the name of efficiency. And like bees, they're producing less and less as a result.I am not advocating that companies ignore technology and its attendant efficiencies. But managers should ask: What are the repercussions for treating millions of employees like they're just another piece of hardware . . . just another worker bee? Check labor statistics if you have any doubts: Wages for middle-class households rose about 6 percent over the last two decades, versus a 58 percent rise for top earners. TIME magazine took recent note of the honeybees’ plight and confirmed they're in big trouble.As they survive by feeding on a variety of flowers, bees pollinate our food sources. Certain types of nectar are necessary for their health and sticky substances from other plants strengthen their living environments. Humans, however, are altering nature so that the food and materials needed for survival are difficult to find or toxic. Agricultural farms are mono-cultural, with acres of the same crop. Fertilizers and pesticides used to increase production are harming and driving away bees.Business organizations do much the same thing when they cut costs by focusing on efficiencies and eliminating what feeds and supports employees. People need time and space for human interaction at work to stimulate ideas that can benefit the company, to seek emotional support during stressful times, and to learn from each other. They also need to take home a sense of self-worth that comes from feeling valued.Millennials expect a “work family” that considers both career and life, and guides them toward achieving their goals. Managers should offer praise but, more important, provide constructive feedback that leads to better performance. Millennials are used to receiving a lot of support and direction, and like the bees, they need visible pathways to sustain them. If they can’t see a path in your organization, they won’t hesitate to go elsewhere. Show that you care about an employee’s personal life by allowing for time to juggle both life and work, with regular check-ins about stress levels and what they might need. This isn’t a one-way street. Millennials should avoid a narrow focus on only the “beautiful flowers.”
- Appreciate experience. Don’t dismiss the knowledge that more seasoned colleagues can provide or assume they will block your chances at career advancement.
- Embrace failure as a lesson. This helps develop resilience.
- Be observant. You’ll learn how experience creates wisdom.
- Appreciate the moment. Doing so projects optimism, makes others want to work with you, and helps you harvest lessons from daily experiences.
- Practice independence to develop the skills to guide the next generation.
Does the decline in satisfying employees’ human needs threaten our frail economy just as the bees’ decline threatens the natural world?The good news is that individual employees may buck the trend by prevailing upon their bosses. My research at Bentley’s Center for Women and Business indicates that millennials, in search of authenticity, find job satisfaction (and resulting productivity) through their relationship to their immediate supervisor. And those managers often find ways to nurture employees, despite declines in resources and incentives.For C-level executives, the message is simple. Want more flowers in your corporate garden? Make sure you keep investing in those worker bees.Susan Adams is professor of management and senior director of the Center for Women and Business at Bentley University.