Researchers at the Novak Leadership Institute at the University of Missouri and Kansas State University discovered that young workers (aged 21-34) are placing a higher value on having respectful communication in the workplace over trendy work perks like happy hours. This study was conducted prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, but the results remain relevant today.
"Today's young workers have shifted toward interests in doing valuable work and finding meaning in their day-to-day job functions," explains Danielle LaGree, assistant professor of strategic communication at Kansas State University.
The research (published in the International Journal of Business Communication) identified the shift in workplace values for young workers after surveying more than 1,000 full-time workers, who represent 18 different career areas, including the service industry. The participants were asked to to rate how different workplace culture aspects were representative of their current place of work of employment on a scale of one to five, including: respectful engagement, autonomous respect, occupational resilience, job satisfaction, employee loyalty and retention and job engagement.
"Leaders and managers are the ones who have the power to help foster that connection of meaningful work, determine what employee well-being means and how to communicate that meaning in a respectful way to their employees," says LaGree. She acknowledges that the extent to which leaders and managers can foster supportive cultures and outcomes is still unclear, but she believes their study strongly contributes to the concept that the workplace is intensely social. According to LaGree, this study shows that more emphasis needs to be placed on training leaders and managers how to effectively communicate and convey respect to their employees.
Margaret Duffy, executive director of Novak Leadership Institute and professor of strategic communication at the Missouri School of Journalism, believes that employers risk losing young employees by not making an effort to use respectful communication in the workplace.
"There's a giant risk for employers if they don't help employees have a sense of purpose and a sense of well-being and engagement," Duffy said. "Coming to work may not be joyful every day, but if work is something where I can feel fulfillment, I can feel respected as a human being and most important, that I can feel that I have earned the respect and recognition that I'm given by my boss and by my co-workers."
It falls on the managers and leaders of the companies to take this into account in their training sessions, and to use this knowledge to actively and effectively communicate with their team positively and in a respectful manner, as well as train their employees to do the same.