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Understanding Generational Differences in the Workplace


Chatting over lunch or coordinating on an after-hours volunteer project may seem like little more than a pleasant way to take a break from work, but these kinds of connections among coworkers (especially those with generational differences in the workplace) can have a tremendous impact on employee engagement.

Unfortunately, it appears they may be dwindling.

We know from long-standing academic studies that even the mere opportunity for friendship increases employee engagement and company commitment. Researchers point to office camaraderie—“the good old-fashioned friendships created when we chit-chat, hang-out, joke and have fun with coworkers”—as a remedy for disengagement.

Yet Emplify’s latest employee engagement trends research, it appears that generational differences in the workplace are a factor.

What We Know: Impacts of Generational Differences in the Workplace

In our recent analysis of companies with formal engagement programs, “friendship” and “shared values” surfaced as the most problematic areas across five industries evaluated. While these two drivers are notably absent across the board, what’s most significant is their inverse relationship with tenure: Compared to coworkers in the one- to three-year tenure range, employees who have been employed at their respective companies for more than 10 years were far less likely to report having close relationships or sharing common work attitudes and personal values with colleagues.

These findings reflect larger trends in an increasingly multigenerational workforce, where differing value systems have been shown to be a cause of some employee disconnect.

For example, almost two-thirds of millennial workers say they want their employers to contribute to social or ethical causes they feel are important, but only half of Boomers and older Gen Xers felt the same way. Early surveys of Gen Z-ers, meanwhile, have revealed some seemingly “old-school” values that stand in contrast to many characteristics of the preceding generation: 75 percent are willing to start at the bottom and work their ways to the top, and more than 60 percent are willing to stay at a company for 10 years.

Such issues aren’t likely to go away anytime soon. Generational differences in workers’ values have long impacted how coworkers collaborate. And with five generations currently working side-by-side, employers should anticipate a continuation of this trend.

What You Can Do to Foster Connections Among Coworkers

There are several steps employers can take to foster friendships and address issues surrounding shared values. We go over these in detail in our Employee Engagement Trends Report, but to start, one proven approach is to formalize a mentorship program.

For example, consider the approach taken by executives at Hall Render, the nation’s largest healthcare-focused law firm, after they measured engagement and discovered the need for better training among younger attorneys and paralegals. To meet this need, the company assigned new employees in entry-level roles to mentors who offer hands-on assistance with technical skills, business development, and general company processes. In addition to providing opportunities for professional development, the program fosters more meaningful connections across generations by uniting new employees with company veterans.

This is just one of several strategies Emplify’s engagement report identified as effective at fostering friendships and encouraging teams to rally around common values at work.

For additional insights, download our Guide to Engaging a Multigenerational Workforce.


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