Are Workers Less Interested in Achieving High Performance?

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May 5, 2015

Houston, we have a problem. Or do we?

At first blush, many leaders may find the following research troubling. But is the different employee focus that’s emerging actually a problem, or just “different?”

As the War for Talent rages – presumably to attract and retain the most skilled and highly motivated employees to help our organizations meet their performance goals – the findings of a new global survey by Right Management indicates an ongoing disconnect between employee aspirations and the performance demands of employers worldwide.

Defining just what is career success

Leaders are tasked with helping their companies to innovate, to grow, to groom high potential successors, and to gain a differentiated competitive advantage in the marketplace. These goals are frequently rooted in an organizational culture that appreciates and rewards productivity and high performance to gain those advantages.

But only 10 percent of employees in the survey defined career success as “high performance and productivity.”

Right Management’s survey highlighted how employees defined career success and what they expected at work, and found that 45 percent of respondents ranked work-life as their No. 1 career aspiration (which is more than double the number of employees that ranked being the best at what they do as their top career aspiration) and the top definition of workplace success was “enjoyment/happiness.”

A significant disconnect indeed. But perhaps not one that should surprise us.

Survey findings align with Millennial preferences

Although employees of every generation ranked work-life balance higher than performance, Millennials were the least likely to aspire to be the best at what they do as their main goal. Given that Millennials currently make up almost 50 percent of the global workforce (and are slated to grow to 75 percent of the workforce in the next 15 years) it’s not surprising that their influence is beginning to be felt.

Known for being ambitious, optimistic, civic-minded multi-taskers, Millennials crave meaningful, challenging work that makes a difference in the world. They most definitely want to succeed, but consistent with the survey findings, their definition of success is often significantly different from their colleagues.

Millennials believe businesses should help resolve social issues and not just measure success in strictly financial terms. They value authenticity, strong business ethics and collaborative relationships of mutual respect. And yes, they want work-life balance because work is just one of many activities to which they are deeply committed.

Leaders and colleagues need to show respect

While Millennials may be more vocal about being respected for the work they do, 53 percent of the surveyed employees said respect for their knowledge and experience was their top expectation of leadership. Other important expectations included:

  • Mutual trust;
  • Transparency;
  • Learning and development; and,
  • A relationship of equals regardless of job title.

In North America, “respect for my knowledge” ranked as the No. 1 expectation of workplace colleagues.

We need to understand employee motivations

While leaders may have hoped for an overwhelming commitment to high performance, it’s important to note that the resulting emphasis on work-life balance doesn’t prevent having an engaged, productive, profitable workforce. In fact, it may enhance it. Understanding employees’ career motivations and aspirations are key to creating a high-performance culture that motivates individuals to do their best work.

How can you use these survey findings to optimize your organizational culture and performance?

The post originally appeared in a somewhat different form on

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