Engaging the Generations in the Workforce

One of the hottest topics right now in business management is engaging the workforce. Engagement is tied to more demanding and immediate issues facing businesses today, like high-turnover and low productivity.  According to a recent Gallup survey, 59% of those who are highly engaged at work feel that their current job brings out their most creative ideas, while a mere 3% of disengaged feel the same. Innovation is key to staying competitive in the current economy, so it’s best to set a standard at the office that encourages imagination and maintains happy employees. There are currently four generations in the workforce who all have different expectations of their employers. The best way to keep an engaged workforce is to understand each generation and what each wants out of employers.

Traditionalists (Pre-1946)
Traditionalists are the oldest generation in today’s workplace. A large group of these workers are putting off retirement due to the economic instability. This group is traditionally hardworking and extremely loyal to their company. They enjoy a job well done and work to achieve that status. They believe in a hierarchy style of management, in which respect and status is earned through experience and years on the job. Slow and steady promotions are expected for this generation. Traditionalists are mainly concerned about retirement and appreciate incentives that include 401k-matching and a flexible work schedule. They feel that decades of experience have warranted them respect and like to be treated in that manner by management and peers. Traditionalists are great wells of knowledge and can be used to help train younger, less-experienced workers.

Baby Boomers (1946-1964)
Baby Boomers are the largest generation in the workforce. This group has certain qualities that are similar to Traditionalists in that Boomers are very loyal and hardworking. This is the generation that coined the term workaholic, often sacrificing home life for a more successful work life. This group enjoys challenging projects and working with colleagues. Boomers are generally competitive, because they often equate work and status with self-worth. Similar to Traditionalists, they are driven by steady promotions and job titles. They are more focused on future stability than instant gratification, expecting retirement, pension and stock option plans. These workers are extremely experienced and are knowledgeable in their own particular field. Respect is expected through tenure and status.  Boomers can be role models to other generations for their strong work ethic, strong face-to-face communication skills, and work experience.

Generation X (1965-1978)
Generation X is the first to split from several of the characteristics seen from Traditionalists and Boomers. They have a steady work ethic but aren’t loyal to any particular company. To them, company loyalty is earned, not expected. Xers are an independent group who desire the autonomy to work within their means to reach goals and complete tasks. They have a good relationship with management but do not accept the hierarchy approach in the office. They believe in respect earned by merit and performance, not tenure and title.  Having been introduced to computers at a younger age than the older generations, Gen Xers are more technology literate and can be highly creative. They want a better work/life balance, and believe that if work can be done at home, then they should have the flexibility to do so. They are the first generation to challenge the status quo and push for change. They also feel the importance of corporate citizenship in the community, expecting their company to be charitable, eco-friendly, and offer volunteer work during office hours. They enjoy training opportunities and monetary rewards that are based on their individual performance. Xers can encourage other generations to think independently, work with autonomy, and communicate effectively.

Millennials (1979-1995)
Millennials, or Gen Y, is the largest generation since the Boomers and is expected to make up half of the workforce by 2015. These young professionals are determined and are focused on learning and growing in their particular fields. Similar to Gen X, Millennials are not impressed by job status or titles. They believe that respect should be given by merit and performance. This group is the least loyal of the four generations in the workforce. If better opportunities are presented, they will seek out other employment. This group’s work/life balance is more centered on their view of employment as a means to an end. Millennials are more likely to accept a job if it fits their lifestyle over one that pays more. They are also focused on corporate citizenship and want their employer to be active in the community with a good-standing reputation in that regard. This generation has never experienced a world without computers and cell phones. They require constant communication with their peers and managers and expect transparency within the company. Unlike Boomers, they are geared toward quick gratification, constant feedback about their work, and training opportunities. They are tech savvy and are great multitaskers. Millennials are optimistic and highly energetic, which can be used to energize the other generations.

An Engaged Workforce
Understandably, generations are made up of individuals who think independently of each other. These thoughts on the workforce are generalizations. The best way to reach each worker is to conduct surveys and hold meetings inquiring on which aspects would best meet their needs and lifestyles. Having open communication on the subject and using each generation’s strengths will create an environment conducive to productivity and innovation.

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4 Responses to Engaging the Generations in the Workforce

  1. Sherri Elliott-Yeary August 8, 2012 at 9:40 am #

    This is a great article, I am glad to see my book Ties to Tattoos was published ahead of this very important issue and can be another resource. Thanks for sharing, Sherri Elliott-Yeary

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