How Your Staff Are Like Houseplants: One-Size Attention No Longer Fits All

For today’s organizational leaders, keeping up with workforce trends that seem to shift at warp speed can be very daunting. The minute you feel like you’ve got a grasp on the demands and expectations of your people, they change…again! How can leaders (who already have an excessive amount on their plate) be asked to uncover and adapt to all these fluctuations at such a swift rate?

This is exactly why Magnet Culture exists. We’ve got our finger on the pulse of the new workforce to help leaders like you quickly learn and adjust to the changing work world around you. 

As an organization continuously researching and learning the needs of the modern workforce, we realize it’s time for another shift in the way we understand today’s employees. We used to categorize staff as either “trees” or “revolving doors” – those longstanding employees versus those who moved in and out quickly. Today we’ve got an even better, more nuanced, analogy that represents what we’re seeing today: “trees” versus “houseplants.”

The Resilient Outdoor Trees

“Trees” symbolize employees who embody resilience and longevity within their roles. These are individuals whose tenure within a company is marked by deep-rooted stability and the ability to endure various challenges within their environment. These employees are often seen as the dependable backbone of their organizations, benefiting from traditional support structures.

The Variety of Houseplants

On the other side of the spectrum are the “houseplants”—a metaphor for the modern employee who values mobility and flexibility and does not plan to settle in one location forever. These workers are characterized by their need for a dynamic work environment and individualized care. Just like real houseplants that need varying amounts of water, sunlight, etc., houseplants in the workforce need different levels of attention and a variety of conditions to reach their full potential.

This workforce is diverse and one-size leadership approaches no longer fit all. Some thrive with minimal oversight, like cacti, enjoying low-touch roles that allow for independence and minimal direct interaction. Others, like orchids, require frequent attention and adjustments in their environment to capture the best opportunities for growth and satisfaction.

While easy to do, don’t be too quick to label houseplants as high-maintenance or overly entitled. They are very much worth the effort leaders must put forth to keep them engaged, and this type of employee has its strengths too. For example, houseplants tend to be more comfortable with today’s unending change and they rarely become set in their ways wanting to work “the way it’s always been done,” which fosters more innovation for organizations. 

Emphasizing Individual Needs

Understanding that one size does not fit all is crucial in cracking today’s retention strategy code. Each different employee has unique needs and contributions. This understanding helps organizations move beyond outdated “sink or swim,” or “weather the storm” models and develop effective strategies that cater to the specific requirements of both “trees” and “houseplants.”

I have the opposite of a green thumb, but a friend gave me an Aloe Vera plant she promised I’d be able to keep alive. I quickly learned that our house only gets sun on one side during the summer, and it switches to the other side of the house in the winter. That meant, if I didn’t move the plant to a new window every six months, it wouldn’t survive. Are you paying close attention to what your staff needs when and making the necessary adjustments at that time?

For example, single moms have different struggles during the school year versus the summer. How much do snow days (now with e-learning requirements) impact your hourly workers’ world? How many of your staff have outside hobbies that ramp up during certain seasons, while they have more available time to pick up extra shifts at other times throughout the year? Great leaders know their people, make individual adjustments, and see their teams thrive!

Growth Opportunities

While it’s less common for “houseplants” to transform into large outdoor “trees,” with the right nurturing and environmental conditions, such transitions are possible. “Houseplants” can grow deeper roots in a single organization if the leaders see their potential and provide opportunities for growth via larger planters (a.k.a. opportunities) over time. This potential underscores the importance of flexible and adaptive management strategies that allow for the unique growth and development of employees within an organization.

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