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Engage Employees of All Ages

As you develop your organization's engagement plan, you'll want to take all these generational differences into consideration. First, however, you should get a sense of how many Millennials, Gen Xers, Boomers, and even Traditionalists you have in your firm. Use a form like this one to write down your numbers.


For help juggling the various priorities of each generation, see this table.

Generations at Work
Baby Boomers (Born 1946–1964) Generation X (Born 1965–1980) Generation Y (Born 1980–2002)
Values Workaholic
Questions authority
Personal/social expression
Life balance
Global thinking
Unimpressed by authority
Team player
Enthusiasm for change
Respect for authority
Tempered hopefulness
Work Is An exciting adventure A difficult challenge A means to an end
Leadership Style Consensual
Challenges others To be determined
Communication In person
In meetings
Text message
Direct message
Feedback Doesn't appreciate it Asks, “How am I doing?” At the push of a button
Rewards Money
Meaningful work
Motivation The need to feel valued and needed Do it “my way”
Work–life balance
Work with bright staff
Work–life balance
Social interaction through technology
Engagement Strategies Establish non-authoritarian environment
Offer fresh assignments
Provide developmental experiences
Tap into their expertise
Ease pressure of complex life
Allow time for questions
Provide references
Use time-efficient approaches
Keep up a quick pace
Be specific about growth
Allow time to earn their respect
Provide interaction with colleagues
Bring up to speed quickly
Encourage mentoring
Use technology
Nonparental approach

Knowing the traits commonly found among members of a particular generation can help you pinpoint what drives the individuals in your firm. For example, if a Gen Y employee you supervise is incredibly driven by recognition, find a way to satisfy this. If money is practically irrelevant to her, make sure she had plenty of face time with executives whenever the opportunity arose.

On the opposite end of the spectrum was a Boomer in his late 50s, who showed signs of becoming disengaged during a period when layoffs were necessary. Recognizing that this man's various financial responsibilities likely made security a key driver, I frequently went out of my way to reassure him that his job was safe.

The generations do have very different views on authority, teamwork, development, and work–life balance, but everyone — regardless of age — wants the following:

  • Achievement: Taking pride in one's work

  • Camaraderie: Having positive, inclusive, and productive relationships

  • Equality: Being treated fairly in matters such as pay, benefits, and developmental opportunities

Smart bosses know that to boost engagement, they must build cultures with these three values in mind.

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