In October of 2004, after finishing a team building event with a client in Inner Mongolia, I was walking the hot and dusty streets of a city called Yinchuan before my flight back to Shanghai. Unexpectedly, a little girl excitedly engaged me in conversation, and I sat right on the ground to chat with her a while. It was a wonderful dialogue about places around the world, and just before leaving I asked if she would ever want to go see some other parts of the world. Without any hesitation she simply asked, “Why would I want to go anywhere else when I’m so happy right here?”
In Chinese, the word “happiness” is made up of the two characters “open” and “heart.” Interestingly, much like their peers in the West, the younger generation in China is blowing the doors wide open in their own search for the “open heart” elixir. What does this mean for employers in their search for talent? Much the same as it is in other countries. People want to know that what they do matters, that there is meaning in their work, and purpose in their lives.
Unfortunately, most employers in China are mistakenly under the impression that highest dollar always wins. Admittedly, retaining a well-educated employee in China is no easy task. Many people have done extremely well by gaining experience and training in one place and then jumping to the next job while doubling their wages with each move. Still, while the cost of labor has skyrocketed, command-and-control leaders dominate the work environment without a clear understanding of why people are leaving.
The truth: It isn’t always about the money. In fact, more often than not, it is about the way we treat, engage, and lift people at work. If we know that they are seeking happiness, how can we help them find it at work?
Consider the following questions:
- Are you honestly concerned about the success of those around you? The moment you are sincerely interested in helping them be more successful, they will be more interested in your success as well. Real Leaders are proud when others succeed, while ego-driven managers fear they will lose status.
- Do you recognize and appreciate great performances regularly? If you are waiting for the holiday party before saying something nice to people you have missed the point. Real Leaders express appreciation regularly and they know that people are working hard so they recognize them accordingly.
- Does the cost of recognition programs prevent you from doing more? How much does turnover cost? What is the cost of disengagement? Most importantly, consider the return on investment as trust improves, people spend more time doing their work instead of watching their backs, and productivity increases as people begin to care more about the quality of their work.
The bottom line is this: People are no longer satisfied waiting until retirement before they find happiness. They aren’t afraid of honest work either. They simply want to work at a place where they can open their hearts and fully engage. You see, for many of this younger generation, happiness is no longer a fairy tale destination in a far away land. Indeed, like I learned on the hot and dusty streets of Yinchuan, happiness is what keeps us right here.