Workplace Culture

How Do We Engage Different Age Groups?

By Staff Report

Jan. 26, 2015

Dear One Size Doesn't Fit,

Ah, the old generational debate! Engaging a multigenerational workforce may seem like organizing a big family reunion and wondering, “How are we going to make sure both granddad and junior enjoy the party — their tastes are so different!”

But this is the world of work, not a holiday shindig. Gen Y, Gen X and the baby boomers are not three layers in an emulsion — touching yet clearly distinct. They blend, and more than you would expect.

Your first step is to ask yourself, “Well, what is ‘engagement’ anyway?” It is important that your definition balances and aligns the needs of individuals with what the organization is trying to archive. At BlessingWhite, we define engagement as the intersection of maximum satisfaction (the individual is meeting his or her work-life goals) and maximum contribution (the individual contributes strongly to the outcomes the organization expects).

We have spent four decades studying this dynamic. No matter the age of an employee, the top two drivers of engagement tend to be:

Contribution:

  • Greater clarity about what the organization needs me to do — and why
  • Regular, specific feedback about how I am doing
  • Development opportunities and training

Satisfaction:

  • More opportunities to do what I do best
  • Career development opportunities and training
  • More flexible job conditions

Now, do we see differences in these drivers between generations? Sure we do. But looking at this data over 40 years tells us that it is less related to the generational divide, and more related to one’s life-stage. For example, when considering their next role: Millennials place relatively more importance on financial rewards — they are young, need disposable income and are just working their way up the pay grade. Generation X places relatively more importance on work-life balance — they have young families and/or elderly parents, and have been burning the midnight oil juggling responsibilities. Baby boomers put a bit more emphasis on meaningful work — they need to feel that what they invest their time into makes a difference to others.

While these aggregate statements make sense, we find more exceptions to this rule than normality. If you coach and engage workers based on generational stereotypes, you will probably go wrong more than half the time.

Our recommendation to appeal to each generation is:

  • Revisit your definition of engagement because engagement is an individualized equation. Treat individuals as such, not as generational stereotypes.
  • Make sure managers are equipped to hold individual engagement conversations to better understand what makes each team member tick. Then, work together to align individual interests, skills and career goals to what the team has to accomplish.
  • Emphasize that individuals have an important role to play — engagement is not something the company does to the employees.
  • Acknowledge and address the issue of trust in your culture.
  • Place focus on the issue of career – this is where future job fit comes in and is a top driver of engagement.
  • Appropriately recognize strong performance.

SOURCE: Fraser Marlow, BlessingWhite Inc., Skillman, New Jersey.

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