Thursday, April 22, 2010

Engaged Employees

Engaged employees are more productive, more innovative, and more likely to stay longer with their organization. Clearly, all of these factors translate to a favorable bottom line impact. Additionally, engaged employees are happier employees, and because happiness is highly contagious, the entire workplace environment may be positively impacted.

How do leaders engage employees? Is an understanding of the trends in attitudes and behavior that define generational identities important when formulating employee engagement strategies?

Veterans are the most senior cohort in the workplace and increasingly the least visible segment of the workplace population. As our most experienced generation, it is imperative that we not count them out. Many will remain in the workplace as long as their health permits. Studies have shown that the mind does not slow down until after age 70.

This generation can be engaged by showing respect for their work ethic, utilizing their expertise and wisdom, and teaching them to coach and mentor the younger generations. Do not consider it non-productive to provide training for this generation. They still want to learn, they do not want to be put out to pasture. Give them opportunities to stay mentally agile and be challenged. Sensitivity to their learning styles and discomfort with rapid technological change should be considered.

Baby boomers are the largest cohort in the workplace and hold the majority of the leadership positions. For this cohort nothing matters more than respect. When researching optimal knowledge transfer methods for my dissertation this was a common theme among the baby boomers in my research study. Baby boomer engineers indicated that they would like to share their knowledge and experience with younger employees but were put off when not approached with what they perceived to be a respectful attitude. Some boomers are feeling the sting of having to share the spotlight with younger generations. Do not discount the wisdom and knowledge that has been accumulated by this group. In addition, may boomers have many years left to work and want to be recognized and respected for what they can still offer organizations.

Gen Xers are the most frustrated generation in the workplace. Dubbed the “Prince Charles” generation, due to their years of waiting in the wings for their chance to show what they can do in the workplace. This generation is feeling the squeeze between the much larger baby boomer and Gen Y generations. However, the greatest untapped pool of leadership talent resides in this cohort. This group is also the first true “free agent” generation. Growing up cynical and mistrusting of the establishment they continue to test the organizational waters regarding their opportunity for growth, advancement, work/life balance, compensation, flexibility, creative challenges, and recognition.

Gen Y wants opportunities to learn and to give. They were weaned on rapid change and become bored with anything that moves slowly. It is also important for this generation to work for an organization that they can be emotionally committed to. The mission, vision, and values of the organization must be in alignment with the values and beliefs of the Gen Yers. Giving frequent quality feedback is essential to keeping this generation engaged. Gen Y employees, similar to their older cohorts want to feel recognized and appreciated as valuable contributors to the organization.

Even though the generational identities vary between the generations the core values and emotional needs of each generation are the same. Respect me, recognize me, and reward me. The way in which each cohort or individual employee desires to be shown respect, recognition, and rewards must be investigated and customized for each individual. Understanding generational profiles provides leaders with a starting point, but remember the variation within the cohort is greater than the variation between cohorts.

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