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Generational Commitment – Engage and Retain Each Generation
By Alex Andrews, CPHR
It seems everywhere you look, there is an opinion post, article or news publication taking about millennials and all the problems with them, and how to fix them. But what’s wrong with who they are and what they offer to the workplace? After all, I am one, technically, though I am closer to the Generation Y, but one nonetheless.
The humorous thing is, each generation before has said similar, if not the exact same things about the succeeding generation. As the late journalism professor Margaret A. Blanchard observed: “parents and grandparents who lead the efforts to cleanse today’s society seem to forget that they survived alleged attacks on their morals by different media when they were children. Each generation’s adults either lose faith in the ability of their young people to do the same or they become convinced that the dangers facing the new generation are much more substantial than the ones they faced as children.”1
This was nicely captured by the cartoonist Bill Mauldin in a 1950 edition of Life magazine. His cartoon featured an older gentleman looking doubtfully at a middle-aged man who, in turn, stared disconcertingly at a young boy with the caption, “Every Generation Has Its Doubts about the Younger Generation.”2
So then why do we always sell future generations short when history has repeatedly shown there is great reason to be optimistic?
As Tyler Cowen, a George Mason University economist, explains in his book, In Praise of Commercial Culture. “Parents, who are entrusted with human lives of their own making, bring their dearest feelings, years of time, and many thousands of dollars to their childrearing efforts…they will react with extreme vigor against forces that counteract such an important part of their life program.” He then states “the very same individuals tend to adopt cultural optimism when they are young, and cultural pessimism once they have children.”3
Thus we see, that each bias we have against the next generation is not a new epidemic. It has existed for years. The question is then, what do we do about these biases to keep all those we employ engaged and committed to our cause?
First, it is critical to identify each group or niche within the company and then develop specific programs that are geared to meeting the needs of each generation. These programs have to address the different needs of each age group, since a Baby Boomer is worried about paying for their children's university, Generation X their time and finding well-paid positions, and Generation Y is concerned about the balance between life and work. Each has their own needs and wants.
What benefits can be implemented for each generation?
Baby Boomers value more stability and hierarchy, as well as the structure of an organization. From this, consider a more flexible schedule so that they can develop their activities as parents, to be able to take care of that university payment, focus on programs that are oriented to the family. Focusing on their family and personal needs will increase engagement in the office.
For Generation X, perhaps more attention to financial incentives, because they value their independence, health and personal growth, implement programs that make their time more efficient within organizations and focus on personal growth and development.
Generation Y needs room to grow, travel, have more flexible schedules, and flexible environments. Rotate positions within the organization and allow for remote work opportunities. They value activities that favor the dynamic environment so that they can adapt to different circumstances, realities and challenges.
Generation Z values more sociability, access to technology, and connection with the more spiritual mind body well-being. They want to feel “in” on things, so develop action plans that form greater collective action, team work and work on innovation issues to help them feel they re-found the organizations.
But, are there universal benefits?
It can be complex to define certain universal/global benefits that can meet the needs of all generations that coexist in the same company, beyond the standard income and health benefits. Consider each generation’s responsibilities, number of weekly hours in the office, recognition of productivity milestones, as well as access to newer technology and minimum interference with personal life.
Is there a generation less committal than others?
The short answer is no. There is no one generation that is less committal to work than the other, but this will depend on the leadership practices within the organization. Commitment is more a result of the leadership culture established and how needs are addressed. For example, Generation Y feels more committed if they can identify with or socialize with their boss. The X and Baby Boomer generations respond more to branding and prestige of the organization. Finally Generation Z is more oriented to the career plan that can offer variety, access to technology or work/life balance. Therefore, generally speaking, generational commitment doesn’t differ much, but rather their focus will change based on needs being met.
What challenge do companies face when managing different generations?
To understand the motivations of each generation, to identify the historical, generational and labor framework that each one values and, as a function of this, to create a 'dictionary' or framework of behavior/coexistence that allows all of them to communicate and work together effectively within the company will be the top challenge in the coming years.
What are the reasons for friction between them? How to encourage collaboration?
The reasons for conflict in each generation has more to do with the way in which the organization and their programs are configured or designed. The way in which one generation has empathy with the other has to do with breaking schemas and understanding each other better, that is, accepting the diversity of each generation and understanding that the historical angst of each proceeding generation has always been there. The key to working together and ultimately increased commitment lies in the understanding of the strengths each brings to the workplace.
Alex Andrews, CPHR is a member of the HR leadership team for one of Canada’s largest agricultural and construction equipment dealership groups where he oversees the organizational development and training programs. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Margaret A. Blanchard, The American Urge to Censor: Freedom of Expression Versus the Desire to Sanitize Society - From Anthony Comstock to 2 Live Crew, 33 Wm. & Mary L. Rev. 741 (1992), http://scholarship.law.wm.edu/wmlr/vol33/iss3/4
2. Bill Maudlin, Life magazine, Jan. 1950. P100
3. Tyler Cowen, Harvard University Press, Jun 30, 2009 - Business & Economics “In Praise of Commercial Culture”