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The landscape of today’s working world is unique for a variety of reasons, one of which being that it’s possible for an employer to have up to four generations of employees working side-by-side at any given time (Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z). This, as you might imagine, presents a variety of challenges. Workers from different generations vary widely in their skillsets, attitudes toward working life, relationships with technology, expectations about the workplace, and training preferences.
Much of the research and writing on the topic of generational differences focuses on comparing Millennials to Baby Boomers, but an employer looking to successfully engage all employees should consider differences across all generations.
Managers have a large influence on job satisfaction and employee engagement. To engage and motivate a multigenerational team, you have to understand what values each generation holds and what’s important to them.
Growing up in the post-World War II era, Baby Boomers (1946-1964) are most broadly characterized as well-educated strivers with strong work ethic. Coming up in a workforce defined by hierarchical leadership, they respect authority and will stay long-term with a company whose leadership they admire. They were the first generation to use modern technology in the workplace, but don’t have the innate comfort of later generations.
Engagement Tactics for Baby Boomers:
Generation X (1965-1980) makes up a smaller portion of the workforce, but they represent many of its current and rising leaders. Gen X employees are known for being highly independent and resourceful. Juggling the needs of children and aging parents, they were the first generation to start advocating for more work-life balance. They witnessed the dismantling of corporate pension programs and benefits, making them often distrustful of management. Gen Xers were also hit hardest by the 2008 financial crisis, causing many to become more risk-averse and extending their time in the workforce.
Engagement Tactics for Gen Xers:
With a bad and arguably undeserved reputation, thousands upon thousands of words have been written on Millennials (1981-1997) in the workplace. Disparaged by older generations as entitled, impatient, lazy, and high-maintenance, Millennials are nonetheless in high demand for their innate technological savvy and strong moral compass. The defining characteristics of Millennials are their desire for customization, control, and immediacy. Millennials make up more than half the workforce and will continue to disrupt traditional working models.
Engagement Tactics for Millennials:
With the first members of Gen Z (1998-Present) just turning 19 this year, it will be a few more years before they fully infiltrate the workforce. While they currently make up just 2% of the workforce, that number will increase to 30% by 2020, so employers should start preparing now. Never having known a world without the internet, Gen Z is a generation of “digital natives.” They grew up in the era of startups and social media, so they crave constant feedback, seek community, and, more than any other generation, want to work for causes they believe in.
Engagement Tactics for Gen Z:
While each generation is defined by different values, attitudes toward work, and outlooks on leadership, they all share certain universal human desires, such as the desire to belong, to have purpose, to find security, and to be recognized for hard work. Knowing that such universal human desires outweigh generational differences, these shared desires should form the foundation of your employee engagement strategy for a multigenerational workforce while the generational differences inform management tactics on a more individual level.