Published - January 2005

By Dave Jakielo

The Challenge of Today's Workforce
What's Changed?

This past year I have had the opportunity to visit and speak with many business owners and managers. During the course of our discussions, I always ask the same question: "What is the biggest problem you're facing today?"

The most common answer is, "I wish I could find dedicated and motivated employees." Some even admit that dealing with employees is becoming their biggest headache. They always add, however, that it hasn't always been this way and they wonder what has changed in today's workplace.

I've been interacting with employees since the 1970s and I, too, have noticed that things have changed. I have observed that the authoritative management style has run its course. The concept of instilling fear to motivate employees has become as effective as eating soup with chopsticks.

This change in attitude of today's workforce has intrigued me for the past few years. Here are some of my observations as to why employees may act the way they do:

  • Entitlement Mentality. Generations that were born before the 1970s lived by the motto, "If I want something, I need to go out and earn it." Today, people in their late twenties and thirties seem to harbor an entitlement mentality. They feel that the world owes them. This attitude may spring from upscale baby boomer parents who denied their children little. Or perhaps decades of entitlement programs, such as social security, welfare, unemployment insurance, Medicare, etc. have changed the way people think.
  • Multiple Choices. In terms of clerical employment today, there is a plethora of choices. A few decades ago, jobs were centered in various office positions. Now, with fast food, retail, and other service establishments within walking distance of every office, employees can find new positions on their lunch hour.
  • Lack of Employer Loyalty. The current climate of mergers, acquisitions, outsourcing, etc., keeps everyone on edge. Many employees arrive at work everyday wondering if it will be their last day. Everyone knows someone with a shocking tale of an out-of-the-blue loss of job, pension, or healthcare benefits after many years of dedicated service.
  • Lack of Accountability. We have left the era of personal responsibility. Now when something goes wrong, it's always someone else's fault. Remember the jury who awarded a McDonald's customer almost $500,000 dollars for a spilled cup of coffee? In our schools these days, poor student performance is never the student or parent's fault. The students' lack of accomplishment must be the teacher's fault.
  • Work isn't a Choice. The ever growing number of single parents in the workforce and people's desires to live above their means has created a work force with a survival instinct versus a career mentality. One question I like to ask employees is, "Why are you working in the position your have chosen?" More than half respond that they are working because they have to, not because they want to. When working is a matter of necessity rather than choice, an employee may have a different attitude towards his or her position.

Given the above challenges, it's not impossible to have a dedicated and motivated workforce. But you are in the driver's seat; you must invest the time and energy to ensure you have an environment that will bring out the best in your team. How do you do that? One way is to increase your leadership knowledge. I'd like to recommend two books that you'll find extremely helpful when it comes to enhancing your skills.

The first is The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes and Posner. The premise of the book revolves around how to get extraordinary things done in organizations. While it is true that management isn't a science, Kouzes' and Posner's insights remove a lot of the "guess work" that is the predominant style of many of today's managers.

The second book, which I make mandatory reading for anyone on my leadership team and which should be on every leader's bookshelf, is The One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard, Ph.D. and Spencer Johnson, M.D. This book outlines the three secrets that every effective leader must know. It's worth a reread every quarter.

Even though the workplace is full of challenges we always need to keep in mind the fact that we need our employees much more than they need us. Creating the kind of work environment that keeps employees energized, productive, and loyal should be at the top of every manager's list. I wish for you a very successful leadership career.

Dave Jakielo, Seminars and Consulting, 86 Hall Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15205. Phone and Fax numbers are 412-921-0976. Email Website -

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