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What Drives Employee Engagement, By Generation


The U.S. workforce now has up to five generations working side-by-side. This wealth of talent provides companies access to a deep well of experience and expertise. It also challenges business leaders and HR professionals to better understand what engages and drives their multigenerational teams.

But why measure the engagement of these groups and where do you even start?

Each group shares many of the same drivers of employee engagement, but each is motivated differently and they prioritize those drivers differently. The drivers of employee engagement for all groups include purpose, capacity, role clarity, utilization, autonomy, shared values, friendship, trust, authenticity, fairness, feedback, relationship with manager, rest, competency, meaning, psychological safety, and professional development.

Measuring engagement by generation empowers management to develop initiatives that motivate and engage each of their unique groups. To do that, it’s critical to first identify each generation and what’s important to them.

The Silent Generation (born 1928-1945)

While approximately 95% of the Silent Generation is retired, this venerable group still makes up 1% of today’s workforce. Their vast life experience and knowledge spans over seven decades, and helped shape a work ethic that built and expanded many industries still creating jobs. The Silent Generation got its name from the Great Depression and World War II era of their birth, when children were expected to be seen and not heard.

They are civic-minded, loyal, good team players, and place great emphasis on rules. While they tend to be less proficient with technology, they value being useful and feeling needed. With this in mind, make sure they have ample access to training, as competency is a key engagement driver.

Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964)

Baby Boomers account for 23% of the workforce, as many in this group are choosing to delay retirement. Like the Silent Generation, they bring an enormous breadth of experience to the table. Due to that experience, Boomers need more role clarity and understanding of how an organization utilizes their skills.

Our research shows that Boomers are most comfortable with the way they’re being utilized at work compared to other generations, and they generally feel confident and capable of doing good work. Friendship is a statistically low driver for Boomers, so encourage team-building initiatives and mentoring relationships that can encourage them to participate more socially.

Generation X (born 1965 – 1980)

Nearly 66 million Generation Xers are in the workforce today, offering a potent combination of traditional work ethic, innovative inclination, and tech savvy. Over 60% of Xers have attended college and they have used that education to attain 51% of leadership roles globally. While they share some of the work traits of the generations before them, Xers have placed great emphasis on having creative input, meaning in the workplace, and maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

Our study revealed that Gen X employees are low on the engagement drivers of friendship and shared values, and score even lower than Millennials on feedback. They’re up-to-speed on tech-based tools but still value traditional learning methods like workshops and seminars. Get them involved in social and team-building activities to boost their engagement.

Millennials (born 1981 – 1996)

Millennials, or Generation Y, is the largest and fastest-growing generation in the workforce. They grew up interacting with Internet-based technology, are focused on achievement, and value social media to connect with the world around them. While they tend to leave jobs after 2 to 3 years, approximately 40% of Millennials envision staying at their current company at least 9 years.

The key to retaining Millennials may be rooted in their two strongest engagement drivers: purpose and shared values. One study found that 75% would take a pay cut to work for a socially and environmentally responsible company. They prioritize making a visible difference in the world, so providing corporate philanthropy opportunities and career-pathing activities will be important to keep Millennials excited about their work.

Generation Z (born 1997 or later)

The oldest members of Generation Z are just beginning their careers. They are even more tech-savvy than Millennials and use their technical dexterity to enhance any project they work on. Growing up with social media that allowed them to constantly compare themselves to millions of people, Z’s are highly competitive, motivated by money, and seek job security. They work hard and play hard, with 75% willing to start at the bottom and work their way up.

Z’s generally had thriving social groups in high school and college, but are the least comfortable of the generational groups with how they’re utilized at work, struggling most with role clarity and scoring low on friendship in our study. Setting clear expectations with them about their roles, infusing your onboarding process with opportunities for social interaction, and teaming them with mentors can help Z’s blossom.

So, what can you do to fully engage and retain your multigenerational employees and help them reach their full potential?

Find full in-depth research on what motivates your employees and more tips to get started on your engagement strategy in our complete “Engaging a Multigenerational Workforce” guide.

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