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Karen Frost

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Engaging all the generations in our workforce


Karen Frost explores the key differences between each of the four generations and explains how to overcome the challenge of Generation Y.

If you stop and think about it, we currently have four generations of people in our workforce. This has always been the case, but the needs and aspirations of each generation differ significantly, and with development of both technology and learning over the past 20 years, the traditional hierarchical structure to our businesses isn’t the way it used to be. It is common practice to have managers managing individuals older than they are. So what does this mean for us and how do we engage everyone?
The four generations are:
  • The ‘Matures’, born between 1909 and 1945 and sometimes referred to as the ‘silent generation’, are those members of our workforce who made the sacrifices, who are comfortable with hierarchy and are influenced by the traditional military model. They expected to be in one job for the majority of their working life and respect that success means promotion and this is the order of things.
  • The ‘Baby Boomers’, born between 1946 and 1964, are known for being workaholics, still retain the idea that hierarchy is the norm and although they may both love it and hate it they still work to authority. They hold high ethical values working for the family and being part of a team.
  • ‘Generation X’, the music television (MTV) generation, born between 1965 and 1979. Generation X’ers are those members of our workforce who were the first generation where both their parents were likely to have worked. They tend to have loyalty to people rather than the organisation. They are more comfortable with change and regard success more in terms of lifestyle than getting that next promotion.
  • ‘New Millennials’, often referred to as ‘Generation Y’, are all those in our workforce born after 1979. They are our first generation that has grown up with technology around them from an early age. Everything is personalised to them, their mobile phone, their iPod and their learning. They are great networkers with a highly developed set of values that they can express. They work to fund their hobbies, not to get promotion. Millennials are predominantly the children of Baby Boomers and have been entering our workforce for the past 10 to 12 years with more coming over the next eight years.
Our job as people managers of organisations is to ensure we engage all the generations within our businesses and gain the maximum potential out of each and every person we employ. Matures are very near to retirement or indeed have taken early retirement and seem content with the contribution they have made to our society.
The majority of decision makers in our businesses reside with our Baby Boomers and Generation X. Both generations are well understood in the workforce and people management has evolved over the past 20 to 30 years to accommodate the changes in our society, our values and our expectations. The generation which I believe we as yet do not understand fully, is the Millennials. In order for us to engage our Millennials I believe there are a few things that need to change.
Millennials have a new style and a new perspective and it is my belief that unless businesses understand this, they are likely to spend unnecessarily on recruitment and retention to maintain and retain this talent. Millennials seek a multi-dimensional life; they gain satisfaction through both work and their personal lives. They are responsible and dedicated and at the same time they expect flexible work patterns to enable them to achieve the balance they desire in their lives. 

A constant connection

This is a very different attitude to the two generations that have gone before them. The Millennials’ world has always had technological aspects and so they see the world as a union of people and countries, connected electronically and technologically 365 days a year, 24 hours a day and seven days a week. 
They like their workplace to be fast paced, engaging and enjoyable like the rest of their life. They work hard, play hard and have high energy levels. They are the multi-task champions, well educated with strong communication skills. They are the generation that embraced social networking and enjoy social interaction in the workplace. They are not keen on emails and voice messaging, preferring the real-time experience of text, instant messaging and video conferencing.
So what does this mean for business? We all need this generation in our workforce. Their energy, skills and ideas are vital to any forward-thinking business. To retain them they will need to feel the business they work for is ‘cool’. To be cool there are a number of factors that need to be changed from the more traditional approach to people management. 
Millennials love feedback and thrive on high levels of praise. So annual appraisal processes are not enough. They need bosses who can give them feedback and praise on a regular basis and who are not tied into the regular annual or bi-annual process of seeing each member of a team one after the other. Appraisal has to be ongoing, real-time and well scheduled to keep them on track. This makes Millennials feel valued, and being valued is a critical element of a cool place to work. 
Millennials also like to be collaborative, they like being part of a team. So whole team praise is even more powerful for them than individual recognition. They like team contact with their boss and regular dialogue around ideas. 
Businesses with the ‘cool factor’ will have no difficulty attracting this vibrant, flexible and values-based generation. Businesses who do not take time to understand and accommodate this new generation with significant changes in working patterns, style and approach will find themselves in the shallow end of the talent pool. 

Karen Frost is from Values Based Leadership Ltd

2 Responses

  1. Engaging Multigenerational AND Multiculutural Teams

    WorldatWork had some interesting research on this late last year: "There is, at best, an awareness of differing generational needs by total rewards professionals. There does not appear, however, to be a concerted effort to proactively go beyond this recognition. The survey reveals that 56% of organizations do not consider generational differences when designing total rewards programs, implying that they may not feel a pressing need to address each generation uniquely or perhaps don’t have the tools to automate and manage the process. The survey also finds that 80% do not have an organization-wide strategy that calls for consideration of a multigenerational workforce when designing, administering or communicating total rewards programs." (

    Our own research dived into the how to evaulate and plan for both the generational AND cultural impact of recognition strategies global organizations must address if they want to get their employee recognition programs right (personally meaningful and culturally relevant) for all of their employees. 

  2. Engagement

    Hugely enjoyable article. Thank you.

    The approaches to engaging the Y generation are the same for engagement generally, regardless of generation, as they respond to the psychology of us all. Nevertheless, the message is one that has to be heard in all organisations in order to foster engagement, and the benefits that accrue, such as vibrancy, innovation, ‘ownership’ and the contribution this makes to improved customer care, strategic development, and the elimination of the hugely costly stress, loss of staff to sickness absence, and loss due to turnover.



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