Keep Employees Engaged, At Any Age

Meister & Willyerd (2010) contend, “The organizations that create a competitive advantage in the 2020 workplace will do so by instituting innovative human resource practices – by first defining an authentic core set of organizational values and then augmenting these by leveraging the latest tools of the social Web to reimagine learning and development, talent management, and leadership practices (p. 4). This done, as the authors describe the working environment we currently experience, which consists of four generations in the workplace simultaneously, and while sharing differing sets of values and beliefs.

The research of Meister & Willyerd (2010) discovered:

What happens in the workplace when these credentials-driven Millenials (born 1977 to 1997 to include Gen-X) are forced to work side by side with older coworkers, who may at times view them as out of touch with reality? To successfully answer this question and the others raised by having an age-diverse workforce coexisting in the workplace, it’s important to develop an understanding of each generation as well as the challenges the different generations bring to the workplace in terms of communication styles, career aspirations, and knowledge transfer. Understanding each generation is critical because employers who adapt the fastest to a multigenerational workforce will be able to attract the highest-quality employees when the war for talent is in full swing. (p. 43)

Generational studies remain critical to the study of organizations as those organizations continue to employ generations whose norms, values, and beliefs shift over time. The face of today’s modern workforce is more diverse than any time in recent history; multiple generations are now working side-by-side in organizations requiring today’s human capital leaders to reexamine how to respond to each generations specific needs to create an engaged workforce (Blake, 2009).

The U. S. Dept. of Labor states that those 65 and older will grow from 12.4% of the population in 2000 to 20.7% in 2050; it also states that one reason boomers will retain positions from which they would have retired or work under new compromising arrangements is that they are needed (Lindborg, 2008). It is no surprise that the Baby Boomer generation will remain a long-term fixture of the American workforce for some time, yet what is also apparent are the differences amassing between this, and its successor generation, Generation X. In a study of The Correlation of Retention, Masi (2010) studied a population “made up of participants eighteen or older, with Internet or email access, and was categorized by generational age groups (p. 2). This study on the impact of ‘manager’s behavior on retention among high potential employees from different generations’ studied a representative sample of 1,000 qualified participants of differing age categories to see just how perception dictates retention. Masi (2010) found, “the results described a medium strength of correlation, r = 0.379, between the decision to leave and the distance in perceptions between employee and manager” (p. 105). Similarly, as remarked by Pitzl (2010), “For meaningful and harmonious transition to occur there has to be a more conscious effort to better understand one another” (p. 28). These differences plague not only levels of understanding and therefore communication between generations, but can affect retention as well.

Dries, Pepermans, and De Kerpel (2008) take this a step further to ask whether ‘satisfied is the new successful’. To determine an evidenced response, the authors studied a total of 750 people completing a vignette task, thereby rating the success of 32 fictitious people (Dries, et al., 2008, p. 907). To complete this research, a synopsis of the four generations studied was completed. These generations included the ‘Silent Generation’, ‘Baby Boomers’, ‘Generation-X’, and ‘Generation-Y’, each with their own general and work-related values respectively. Whereas the general values of the Silent Generation included conformism, the Baby Boomers were summarized to exhibit a more idealistic tendency. Once Generation-X was reached, equal portions of skepticism and individualism were listed. The findings from the vignette tasks administered by Dries, et al., (2008) revealed “If our design accurately presented the reality of career evaluation, then, this would mean that the shared social understanding agreed upon by all generations tends to validate the internal evaluations individuals make about their own careers, no matter what their objective characteristics” (p. 923).

Hiring and retaining employees is one of the biggest challenges we face in organizations today; add in what we now recognize as four generations of employees in today’s workforce, and the challenge potentially becomes a recipe for disaster (Clare, 2009). The author continued with a classification of generations not unlike the aforementioned, yet specifically highlighting Traditionalists, Boomers, Xers, and Millenials as the populations of inquiry. Through means of understanding cultural differences, and embracing those differences, Clare (2009) later concludes, “If you are able to harness the strengths of all the generations and different personality types, the results can be impressive” (p. 43).

– Justin

Blake, D. (2009). Creating generationally specific engagement strategies based on need satisfaction. Ph.D. dissertation, Capella University, United States — Minnesota. Retrieved November 4, 2010, from Dissertations & Theses: Full Text.(Publication No. AAT 3360065).

Clare, C. (2009). Generational differences: Turning challenges into opportunities. Journal of Property Management, sep.oct 2009, 43.

Dries, N., Pepermans, R., & De Kerpel, E. (2008). Exploring four generations’ beliefs about career :Is “satisfied” the new “successful”?. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 23(8), 907-928.

Lindborg, H. (2008). A booming voice. Quality Progress, 41(9), 58-59.

Masi, F. (2010). The correlation of retention: An investigation of the relationship between what is important to employees and what is perceived to be important to their managers. Ph.D. dissertation, Capella University, United States — Minnesota.

Meister, J. C. & Willyerd, K. (2010). The 2020 workplace: How innovative companies attract, develop, and keep tomorrow’s employees today. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

Pitzl, J. (2010). Building bridges between generations. Journal of Financial Planning, 28-30. Retrieved from Business Source Elite database.


2 thoughts on “Keep Employees Engaged, At Any Age

  1. Great article. If you have not already, you should check out the book “Not Everyone gets a Trophy”. It talks about the same ideas in the book in regards to leading across generations. Look forward to more posts.

    1. Thank you very much Naverwater, and thank you for reading as well! I appreciate your suggestion, and I look forward to reading the book. I too am an immense fan of any cogent research which allows us to better understand the dynamics of a workplace demographic undergoing sea change. An interesting paradox continues to surface, as we discover the answer to aligning multiple generations is – at times – a deeper focus on what is core to the organization, as opposed to paradigms which seek focus on the individual. While understanding individual motivations remains important, preserving what is the essence of an organization while allowing that to permeate action remains tantamount. We contribute much more when directed toward an aligned purpose, thank you again.



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