Motivating the 80′s and 90′s Generation in China

Published on 2012-05-08

Chinese 80s 90s Generation
THOSE OF US WHO WORK with the post 80′s and 90′s generation staff in China have learned that it is difficult to keep them engaged and motivated and even harder to attract and retain them.
There’s a war for talent taking place in China and managers all across China are struggling to find ways to win.
Some of the challenges I hear often from managers on the frontline is, “They don’t listen,” and “They lack respect for authority.” These statements have been echoed since Gen Y first entered the workforce and they will undoubtedly continue. But if we want to keep them, we need to find ways of connecting with them and engaging them in our organizations.
According to Nandani Lynton, a Euro-China Centre for Leadership and Responsibility faculty member at the China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) in Shanghai, “They (the 80’s and 90’s generations in China) listen to those they trust; predominantly their peers.”  So how do we develop trust?
We’ve all heard the stories of how CSR has helped to improve organizations’ brand images to consumers. The Wang Lao Ji story, for example, is still fresh in the minds of many in China.
CSR and Building Trust
This herbal tea soft drink maker quickly became one of China’s most well-known and highly respected brands after donating 100 million RMB to help in the aftermath of the May 12th earthquake in Sichuan, China. News of the donations spread like wildfire and soon demand for Wang Lao Ji was so high that they couldn’t keep it on the shelves of grocery stores and restaurants in China.
Even today, Wang Lao Ji continues to be a well-known and respected brand in China.
So, can CSR be adopted by HR to help in attracting and retaining young talent in the same way it has attracted consumers?
In a PricewaterhouseCoopers survey of graduates from the United Kingdom, the United States and China, 87% of the Chinese respondents said that they would actively seek out employers whose sense of ethics and responsibility matched their own.
If this is true, than the answer should most definitely be, YES.
Wanting to Fit In
Lawrence Kohlberg, an American psychologist and professor at the University of Chicago and Harvard University, specialized in research on moral education and reasoning, and developed a theory called the Stages of Moral Development.
Kohlberg’s theory, one of the most highly referenced in psychology today, suggests that moral development is a continual process that occurs throughout a person’s life and that people will travel through these stages (which are categorized by how people reason and justify their behaviors when presented with moral dilemmas) as they get older.
Levels Two and Three of Kohlberg’s stages move from behavior that is primarily self-centered to behavior designed to improve relationships, seek approval, or establish a sense of belonging to a group. This coincides with Howe’s views that the “Hero” generation is seeking a sense of belonging as well as agrees with the PricewaterhouseCoopers survey results, mentioned previously.
So, if we know that employees want to feel like they belong in our organizations, the question now is, “How do we help them see whether or not they do?”
Chris Watkins, Country Manager for China & Hong Kong at MRI Worldwide China, a global recruitment and research firm, agrees that employees today seek a fit between themselves and their employers. Watkins says that a strong connection between employees and their boss is a crucial factor to motivating the 80s and 90s generations in China.
In an MRI China survey of over 3,000 respondents in China, participants were asked to share their first motivator for remaining in their current employment. ‘People’ was the response receiving the second highest number of votes after ‘Challenges’ and was well ahead of ‘Compensation’ which came in at a distant seventh place.
In my November 2011 article for Network HR on the topic of motivating the 80s and 90s generations in China, I quoted Neil Howe, an author and historian who describes these generations as wanting to belong; especially belonging to part of something big. This desire for belonging is, in essence, a desire to fit in.  A company’s CSR campaign demonstrates its values and shows employees how “things are done” within the organization which ultimately helps employees determine whether or not they fit in with the culture of the company.
Dan Cable, author of “Person–Organization Fit, Job Choice Decisions, and Organizational Entry” and faculty member at the London Business School and Timothy Judge, Professor of Management at the University of Notre Dame, highlight the importance of an applicant’s values aligning with those of a potential employer and how it shapes their recruitment choices.  Most notable were the values cited as influencing the attractiveness of potential employers: ‘taking individual responsibility’, ‘fairness’, ‘tolerance’, ‘a clear guiding philosophy’, ‘being socially responsible’ and ‘having a good reputation.’
Voicing Out
Unfortunately not all managers, or those of us in HR, have control over our organization’s CSR campaigns. So what can we do? How can we show our values and ultimately build a bond and trust between us and our staff?
Luckily, many of our organizations are already involved in CSR campaigns, so we don’t need to focus on developing them.
Wang Lao Ji tea was propelled to brand stardom with its CSR campaign. However, two other companies who launched similar campaigns at that time ended up with completely different results and they were banned and boycotted throughout China. Why?
In an article released by Xinhua shortly after the earthquake, entitled “Overseas Firms Learn Lesson of ‘Do as the Chinese Do’,” two companies were highlighted. They each contributed to the disaster relief effort but were being banned and boycotted in China. The cause was blamed on these companies not making an effort to publicize their contributions. “Foreign companies should ‘do as the Chinese do’ in their public relations strategy,” commented a local expert who declined to be named. “In China, one must do and speak at the same time. Otherwise, one may fail to show himself up in a correct way.”
When referring to the boycott of companies after the Sichuan earthquake, Scott Kronick, president of Ogilvy PR China, said “The whole event was indicative of a sort of social contract that Chinese consumers have made with corporations. They look to the business community in addition to the government for support in times of need.”
Companies that fail to implement effective CSR campaigns, and actively promote them may be seen as not caring and being there when people need them. And isn’t that the very foundation of trust?
If we want to attract and retain post 80s and 90s generation staff, and gain a competitive advantage in this War for Talent, we should remember that they listen to those they trust and they want to fit in. By communicating our CSR strategies to potential and current employees, we can help them see that they really do fit in to our culture… and belong.