Today’s workplace is a vibrant ecosystem where five generations, for the first time, are co−existing. This has created a large pool of talent wherein a winning combination of experienced hands of yesteryears are meeting the enthusiasm of today’s generations. These five generations today are working side by side towards their shared commercial and economic gains.
Given that different circumstances have shaped each generation, they come with different understandings and expectations of their roles in the workplace. In an environment where employee engagement has become a valuable contributor to organizational success, HR teams have to gain a clearer understanding of what drives these multigenerational teams.
However, to do so, organizations first need to identify each of these generations and understand their needs and motivations.
The Silent Generation (1928−1945)
The Silent Generation or the traditionalists make up approximately 1% of the workforce. Their experience spans several decades. They are the ones who have grown−up facing some of the most challenging socio−economic conditions. Loyalty, teamwork, and a great emphasis on rules has been their hallmark while technological understanding is not one of their strongest suits. They view their relationship with their employers as an uncompromising responsibility.
While most of this generation is on its way to retirement, those who are still in the workplace are in advisory and executive−level roles. And as tenured employees, they want organizations to recognize their deep experience.
Employee engagement, for them, is not about fancy perks, but it is about more tangible assets − are they being paid fairly? Are the retirement plans helpful? How will flexible work-policies help them? Is their experience being valued and shared? Are they treated like valuable assets in the organization?
Answering these questions helps you understand how engagement strategies will have to shift to accommodate the needs of this generation.
The Baby Boomers (1946−1964)
This generation was once the backbone of the labor force and presently accounts for almost 23% of the workforce. Much like the Silent Generation, they also have an enormous breadth of experience.
A large chunk of this generation is now in mid and upper management categories. Given the sheer breadth of their experience, they demand better role clarity and an understanding of how the organization is utilizing their skills.
The motivations of this generation have some close overlaps with the current generations, the millennials, and Gen Z, at work. Much like the millennials, they want to be valued at work. They are generally optimistic and are loyal to organizations when
they feel involved. A sure shot way to engage this generation is to make them feel that their contributions are valued, recognized, and rewarded.
The baby−boomers are also a generation that has been ‘task−based’ and many define themselves by their jobs. And given this nature, they are a great source of tribal knowledge that can be leveraged for several ‘teach−back’ moments for the younger generation.
At the same time, the nature of work is changing rapidly. Skill enhancements are becoming essential to remain relevant. Organizations thus need employee engagement strategies to recognize the work they have done, identify where they can help, and assess where they need help (both technical and behavioral) based on data. This will help this generation feel valued, remain engaged, and contribute positively in the workplace.
Generation X (1965 − 1980)
There are approximately 66 million GenXers at work today. This generation exhibits a potent mix of traditional work ethics and tech−savviness. They have a strong inclination towards innovation. They also constitute 51% of leadership roles globally.
Alarmingly, research shows that this generation that comprises a third of the U.S. workforce is the least happy of all generations. Only 54% of Gen Xers said they feel empowered at work. 62% don’t feel respected at the office.
As the boomers have been slow to move out of the workforce and retire, Gen X has been slower to come into management roles when compared to their predecessors. This has prompted this generation to look for development opportunities outside of work since they feel constantly overshadowed − first by the previous generation and then by the millennials and Gen Z.
To keep this workforce engaged, organizations have to provide them with new opportunities and help them leverage external sources for mentorship to solve their problems independently.
The Millennials presently make up the largest section of the working population. This generation entered the workforce just when technology disrupted the traditional work environment. It is hardly a surprise that their parameters for engagement are also very different from those of the previous generations. This generation demands recognition. They demand transparency. They demand value.
Having grown up with Internet−based technology, they are focused on achievement. They are invested in learning opportunities and are heavily focused on purpose−driven work. They don’t want ‘jobs’ anymore. They want careers. And the millennials want organizations to demonstrate how these demands will be fulfilled.
To engage millennials, organizations have to provide concrete and directed avenues of leadership development. Cosmetic benefits such as fancy café’s and extravagant annual
office parties are being replaced by purpose−led, quantifiable, and qualitative experiences that will help them further their professional development goals.
Generation Z (1997 onwards)
The youngest generation in the workplace, members of Generation Z are at the starting point of their careers. This generation is even more tech−savvy than millennials and is highly competitive and motivated by money.
One of the most ethnically diverse generations, Gen Z, is motivated by the diversity and inclusion efforts of an organization. They are ambitious and value opportunities for career advancement, and much like millennials, want organizations to show a commitment to these efforts.
Having been raised in the ‘real−time’ environment, they want performance reviews and feedback mechanisms to be real−time as well. They want coaching and mentorship opportunities to further their career paths and prepare for positions of greater responsibility.
Successfully managing and engaging this diverse workforce needs an awareness of their changing needs. It also needs a willingness to embrace new ways of working and managing people.
It pays to remember that the workforce is made up of ‘people’, not an abstract generation category. Gaining clear insights into what they want can, thus happen only through clear, two−way communication. Instead of using generation stereotypes to structure engagement programs, it makes more sense to pay attention to the wants and needs of the blended workforce. Only by addressing their unique differences and their similarities, organizations can understand the motivators that will influence employee engagement initiatives positively.
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