Generational Differences: A Bad Driver in Employee Engagement


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We often think people of different generations are bad drivers. Older drivers look at younger drivers in disdain while younger drivers think older drivers should get off the road.

Yet, when it comes to employee engagement Watson Wyatt just released data to suggest that different generations share the same engagement drivers and that generational differences in drivers of engagement are not as wide as perceived.

The #1 driver of employee engagement for all ages was strategic direction and leadership. The only exception was employees between 30-39 who believed that rewards (pay & benefits) was the #1 driver. This generation rated strategic direction / leadership as the #2 driver while all the other generations rated rewards as the #2 driver.

Communication was a part of the #3 driver for all the generations. The different generations in the workplace from under 30 to over 60 and all the ages in between rated leadership, rewards, and communication as the key drivers of engagement.

Debra Horsfield from Watson Wyatt concluded: “employers should avoid an emphasis on labels and instead focus on commonalities in what motivates employees.”

This makes intuitive sense to me because even though I am 52, my three teenagers listen to the same rock music as me. At times, we seem worlds apart but often we share so much in common.

I think we often overestimate generational differences at the neglect of commonalities. If you want to read an informative book on generational influences at work I highly recommend Jennifer J. Deal’s book discussing the research on the common ground between the young and old, Retiring the Generation Gap.

Here were the 10 key principles she developed in her book:

  1. All generations have similar values; They just express them differently
  2. Everyone wants respect: They just don’t define it the same way
  3. Trust matters
  4. People want leaders who are credible and trustworthy
  5. Organizational politics is a problem — No matter how old (or young) you are
  6. No one really likes change
  7. Loyalty depends on the context, not on the generation
  8. It’s as easy to retain a young person as an older one — If you do the right things
  9. Everyone wants to learn — More than just about anything else
  10. Almost everyone wants a coach.

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2 responses to “Generational Differences: A Bad Driver in Employee Engagement

  1. Wow that’s really surprising to hear about #1 being strategic direction over reward for most folks. I guess it goes to show that folks really want to be *engaged*, *motivated* and *inspired* =)

  2. Of course these are general results. What still needs to happen is the discussion between individuals and their leaders. This could be a good starting point in the discussion.

    “Here is what the research says, is it true for you? What are the things you and I can do to foster more engagement? What can the organization do too?”

    That’s what I’d like to see.

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