Over my 20-year career HR and technology leaders have asked me why their companies cannot retain talent nor move the needle on increasing employee engagement. They’ve spent untold time and money focusing on culture, looking to address the needs of their multi-generational workforce.
But many leaders focus so much on the differences of the generations that they lose sight of the similarities. But I would argue the generations are more similar than you think, and it’s in those similarities leaders will find their answers. Workers of all generations want many of the same things, though they may differ on why, and how those desires can be met. It’s in identifying those minor differences that leaders can successfully meet all employees’ needs and gain traction on employee retention and engagement.
Here are some examples.
Security. Throughout my career placing candidates as a talent acquisition pro, I’ve learned one huge reason a worker takes the call, email or text from a recruiter is because some form of security or stability and their current company is not being met. An article from the Mandarin reinforced this observation: “People care far more about job security than whether a position is well-paid or high status.”
At the same time, my experience working with job seekers taught me that people generally do not want to constantly move around. The truth is that the thought of change makes them uneasy; we humans like security and familiarity— familiar food, entertainment, everything. After all, we are “creatures of habit.”
This is not just a Gen X or millennial trait; everybody wants these things.
Autonomy. Another key reason people are always looking for a new job — not to mention why employee engagement has trended so low — can be linked to lack of freedom. The best HR and talent professionals understand that employees have different preferences in how they do things because people learn in different ways. People get uncomfortable with having little to no wiggle room.
The same Mandarin article explains: “A lack of autonomy is one of the drivers of generation Y moving between jobs. … It’s not so much that they want to jump around, but that young people often get frustrated at lacking any real autonomy in their work.” But I argue it’s not just Gen Y that feels this way. Gen X also wants these things; Boomers do too.
I am not trying to say there are no generational differences leaders need to be aware of. But I am making the case that the differences are much smaller than most think — and that we as a society have created a workplace culture that focuses on the differences and pays much less attention to our generational similarities.
For example, in the state of 2020, boomers, Gen Xers and millennials are well versed and adept in multiple forms of communication; yet individual preferences differ and that is the truth. Yet there is a stigma of technology inability that surrounds boomers and even Gen Xers, which is nothing short of a true bias and false beliefs.
Are you starting to see the picture here? It’s about generational similarities and employee’s desires for mental and emotional health — and they are tied together. We’re going to enter the New Year with some very big challenges and my research points to workforce strategy moving in the direction of collaboration, unity and workforce prosperity for all people.
- It means employee engagement is about job security and stability.
- It means employer flexibility and employee freedom.
- It means bias and discrimination are out. The multi-generational workforce is in.
If you are an HR, talent or professional leader in any capacity in the world of work, it’s time to get with the winning mindset because the future of work is right now.