Baby boomers, Gen X, millennials, and Gen Z make up today’s workforce.
There is a ton of research on each generation. We have insights into how they prefer to be managed and what motivates different generations. We have insights into their career goals and how they communicate. With multiple generations in the workplace, do we need a multiple engagement approach?
Don’t Engage Stereotypes, Engage People
Here’s what four generations in today’s workforce look like. Baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, represent 25 percent of the labor force. A third of the labor force is Generation Xers, born between 1965 and 1980.
The generation that seems to have been analyzed the most, millennials, are the largest generation in the workforce. Gallup estimates millennials cost the US economy $30.5 billion per year due to turnover. And finally, Generation Z is beginning to enter the working world, comprising 5 percent of the workforce.
While research continues to show us how all four generations are different, I believe there are three things that unify each generation; three things all people crave to be motivated and engaged at work. They want:
- Leadership to show them respect
- Purpose in their work
- Strong workplace relationships, especially with their supervisors and managers
No matter when a worker was born, what we’ve been doing to engage employees isn’t working. Partly because we’re over-complicating employee engagement.
We need to look at engaging people as individuals based on what we as humans crave at work: respect, purpose, and relationships. By giving people these three things, we are better able to engage and motivate them regardless of generation. Through regular feedback, strategic recognition, and communication, we can meet each individual’s needs and engage the entire workforce.
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Make Engagement Accessible, Anytime and Anywhere
The way we work has changed. Technology has freed us to work at any time and from almost anywhere. Giving people what they want isn’t effective if they are unable to access it.
A recent Reward Gateway poll showed that 82 percent of HR workers surveyed thought employee engagement would improve if they had the technology to recognize good behavior on an ongoing basis. Employee engagement would improve if workers had technology that was accessible when and where people work.
Think about how your own day started. When you woke up this morning, you may have turned the alarm off on your phone, scanned through the news headlines of the day, and bookmarked a couple of web pages to check out on your bus or train ride to the office, all before you even got out of bed. Once you got to the office, your phone was buzzing with messages and notifications from Facebook or LinkedIn the entire time you were going through emails.
Or maybe you didn’t go into the office at all. The International Data Corporation estimates mobile workers will make up almost 75 percent of the American workforce by 2020. There’s a good chance you poured a cup of coffee this morning and began work from home or that your work frequently shifts locations.
Engaging the individual requires giving them the opportunity to engage regardless of where they are. Employees shouldn’t have to be in the office or find time in the workday to connect with their employer and experience moments that increase engagement. Instead, they need to be able to access the tools, recognition, and communication wherever they might be working.
Regardless of the generation, we have all changed the way we work. Employees want real-time communication. They’re digitally social, have smartphones growing from the palms of their hands, and want on-the-go information, accessible from wherever they are and whenever it fits in their schedule. Employee engagement can (and should) be this way too!
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Engage the Person
Consider how marketing has changed to reach people. There are a few takeaways from their approach that we can use in HR to better engage people at work.
- Repeat. One message doesn’t cut it. You must diversify your message strategy to include a variety of media (video, email, engagement platform) to reach people where they are for the largest impact.
- Ask. What do your workers think? Provide employees opportunities for feedback and surveys.
- Understand. Your work schedule and location aren’t necessarily theirs. Make sure your communications are as flexible as your workforce.
- Impact. Don’t forget about the impact of a powerful story. Your marketing team probably creates customer success stories. What about your employees? Collect stories of great work that needs to be recognized and share it to bring attention to the message you’re trying to send.
And most of all, talk with your employees instead of talking at them. You’ll gain so much more and maybe even reach them. We shouldn’t look to engage employees based on their generation’s stereotype. We must engage them by giving them what all humans crave: respect, purpose, and relationships.