Engaging a multi-generational workforce

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With the emergence of Gen Z, organizations now need to engage a multi-generational workforce, each with their own values, desires, and demands.  

Each of these generations came up in vastly different political, familial, and technological worlds that have shaped both how they perceive and what they expect from their employer.

Although the definitions are a little fuzzy around timelines, I think the easiest way to define the four generations is as follows:

  • Generation Z – Early 20’s
  • Generation Y (Millennials) – Mid 20’s to early 40s
  • Generation X – Early 40’s to mid 50’s 
  • Baby Boomers – Mid 50’s to late 60’s 

Finding ways to engage with your employees will be critically important due to its effects on the bottom line driven by high performance, lower turnover, and improved culture.

For this article, I will take a high-level overview of each of these generations, and in the future, I will drill down into each generation in more detail.

Generation Z

Generation Z is the first generation that has grown up with technology defining every aspect of their lives, this has impacted both how they communicate and perceive the world. 

Unlike previous generations, their primary method of connecting with the outside world is via technology with less focus on face-to-face and phone calls and greater emphasis on social networks and messaging services.

They have grown up in a post 9/11 world, have seen the great recession, the rise of inclusion and diversity, and experienced a highly polarized political and media climate, all of which have impacted their perceptions of the world and the role of authority.

According to Wharton, they expect several things, including a closer relationship with their authority figures, ethical corporate behaviour, and they place a high value on technology.

Engaging effectively with Gen Z will require a focus on developing training activities, creating mentorship opportunities, and focusing on inclusion and diversity.

Generation Y – Millennials

According to Pew Research, Millennials are much better educated than their parents, with 39% or higher holding a bachelor’s degree, as compared to 25% of baby boomers. With higher education comes increased expectations around continuous learning and development.

Generally speaking, they have entered the workforce later in life, started families later in life, and have lived longer at home.

Like Generation Z, they grew up in a digital world that has shaped their expectations around communication and the nature of work.  

In an article by the World Economic Forum, they spoke about how both Gen Y and Gen Z see their employer as part of their identity and are looking for employers that share their values.

Engaging and retaining with Millennials will require a focus on culture, inclusion and diversity, performance development, and learning.

Generation X

Generation X is experiencing its own unique set of challenges, such as having their kids live at home longer and their upward mobility impacted by the baby boomer generation delaying retirement.

According to the Harvard Business Review, Generation X has not been promoted at the same rate as other generations while also bearing the brunt of the workload. Despite being very loyal, they do not feel like they are advancing at an acceptable rate, causing them to reach a breaking point.

A recent report by Metlife found that for many of the same reasons listed above, Gen X has the lowest job satisfaction as compared to other age groups.

EntrepreneurHBR, and US News all agree that engaging with Gen X will require an examination of hiring practices to eliminate generational biases, professional development, and external coaching.

Baby Boomers

The effects of financial insecurity caused by delayed government benefits, elder care issues, and their kids still living at home have caused many baby boomers to continue to work later in life than their parents.

Unlike the generations that came after them, boomers worked in a world that placed a high value in experience, workplace visibility, and face to face meetings. 

Indeed recently wrote about the common characteristics of boomers, which included how they equate authority with experience, pride themselves on their decision-making skills, and define themselves by their job.

According to the article Engaging Baby Boomers by Dummies, engaging with Baby Boomers will require leveraging their experiences, providing them with new assignments and development opportunities, and creating a non-authoritarian work environment.

Final thoughts

Although there are many differences across these generations, there are many similarities as well. It is important to remember that whatever group you are working with that they each grew up in a different time, have a different world view, and are experiencing their own unique challenges outside of work.  

There are common themes that exist across these generations, such as high value placed on professional development, continuous learning, mentor/mentee relationships.  

A critical consideration in any engagement strategy will be the effective use of engagement surveys. An anonymous well-designed survey will provide the insights the business needs to stay ahead of employee concerns, identify organizational weaknesses, and build long term loyalty across the entire workforce.


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