Are Generation Wars Turning into Engagement Wars?

A recent survey by Axios found that Millennials are the most likely generation to say that Boomers have made things worse for their generation, with 51% of Millennials agreeing. Gen Xers are also likely to blame the Boomers, with 42% saying that Boomers have made things worse for them. With these three Generations dominating the labor force right now, what does that mean for employee engagement?

First, a quick reminder of who’s who in Generations now in the workplace, using the Pew Research definitions:

  • Baby Boomer (born between 1946-1964): Baby Boomers were once the backbone of the U.S. labor force but have since been surpassed by Gen X and millennials. Many are spending the waning days of their careers in mid to upper management positions.
  • Gen X (born between 1965-1980): Many current workplace leaders are from Gen X, who originally pushed back against the Boomers to advocate for better work/life balance.
  • Millennial (born between 1981-1997): Millennials recently become the majority in the workplace. This generation is marked by their enthusiasm for new tools and technologies, giving Boomers some concerns.

Engagement and Generations

According to Gallup, instead of Boomers getting everything they want, that generation is both the least engaged (26%), and the most actively disengaged (23%) generation, Millennials, on the other hand, are the most engaged (33%) and the least actively disengaged (14%) generation. (Note, however, that for all Generations, the not engaged category accounts for 50% or more of employees, which is undoubtedly the greatest opportunity for businesses across the board.)

But isn’t that good news? Those grumpy, unhappy Boomers are going to retire soon, anyway, making way for the younger and more engaged generations. Not quite.

Many Boomers are delaying retirement, whether for economic reasons (insufficient savings, attempting to recover losses from the previous economic downturn, etc.) or because they simply want to keep working. These factors may keep Boomers in the workforce for years, adding to the stress between the generations as those Boomers “just won’t get out of the way!”

Engagement Drivers by Generation

So, here’s the good news: engagement levels for all three generations can be addressed using the same drivers and motivators. According to Gallup: “For Millennials, Generation Xers, and Baby Boomers, research shows that focusing on giving employees opportunities to do what they do best and helping them connect to the mission and purpose of their company are the strongest factors for boosting retention.” Gen X and Millennials’ engagement is positively addressed by being given opportunities for growth and professional development. And finally, Boomers’ engagement increases when they know their management cares about them personally.

Of course, you don’t employ or motivate generations; you manage individuals. None the less, analyzing your employee engagement survey results by generations could provide insight into the power and value of your employee engagement efforts. What percent of your workforce belongs to each generation and what are their engagement levels by generation?

Once you understand how generations are impacting the employee experience, you need to take steps that will help bridge that gap:

  1. Communicate for Alignment: Everyone needs to understand what the organization is trying to accomplish and what success “looks like.” Without common goals, engagement suffers.
  2. Build-in Flexibility: Benefits, training, work environments, rewards – everything must be flexible to address this increasingly diverse workforce.
  3. Banish Bias: Work hard to create a more unified workforce through greater diversity. Cross-functional, cross-generational teams increase understanding and tolerance.

A multigenerational workforce can be a managerial and HR challenge, but it can also be an important opportunity to secure your organization’s future success. Diverse attitudes, opinions, and backgrounds can provide a fertile learning environment for employees of all generations.

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