How To Maintain a Good Employee-Employer Relationship

There are some companies we look at, admire, and say, “Wow, I really want to work for them.” These companies understand that employees are as important as the paying customers who consume the products and services they sell. And they know that the transparency of social media means the company’s reputation is highly dependent on what its employees say. These same companies understand the importance of a good employee-employer relationship.

It’s never been more important for companies to treat employees well and fairly—but it has also never been more complicated to do so. With so many different generations in the workforce, each expecting different things from their employers, exactly what kind of relationships should companies be fostering with employees—and how should they go about doing so?

My research (quantitative and qualitative studies of Millennials, Gen Xers, and Baby Boomers as part of my company’s Culture Q project) into how cultural sentiments impact people’s relationships with brands has shown that nurturing faithful employee relationships today is no different than cultivating loyal customers. Both begin with a “me-first” orientation—that is, companies must “satisfy my wants and needs first”—and then stretch across a continuum, culminating in a “we” orientation—“address the issues that are important to my community and the broader world” (see the “me-to-we continuum” below). Just as consumers now look to do business with companies that advocate for causes they care about, employees are looking for employers who advocate for them and on their behalf for causes that matter to them. Companies are no longer “just” companies. As technology has removed the boundaries that historically divided our work and personal lives, we are now imbuing employers with the characteristics of friends, family and even enemies—looking for them to focus on the things we care about and, if they don’t, then joining forces with someone else who does.

The acid test of a satisfying employee-employer relationship is rooted in a set of specific behaviors along the “me-to-we continuum.” The best employers help us each achieve our personal “me” goals and dreams on the one hand, while simultaneously collaborating with us to solve more generalized “we” worries about the economy, the environment, the world on the other hand. And, in between the “me” and “we” extremes, there are a variety of ways that employers can enrich the lives of employees and communities alike.




Few companies occupy all five points on the continuum, but the best companies are moving along the spectrum. It’s no longer enough to simply satisfy employees’ own individual needs and wants—companies must also act more broadly, advocating and working on problems in the world that employees care about. Here’s what companies can do, and how their actions along this “me-to-we continuum” can be geared toward what the different generations—Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials—are looking for from their employer: continue reading

First published at Harvard Business Review by Anne Bahr Thompson.

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