Gallup recently released some eye-catching insights on generational differences in employee engagement. According to their latest findings:

  • “Since March 2020, the percentage of engaged baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) has increased by two percentage points, from 34% to 36%
  • “On the other hand, the percentage of engaged Gen X employees (born between 1965 and 1979) has declined by four points, from 35% to 31%”
  • “But the most dramatic decline in engagement has occurred among younger generations, especially the older group of millennials (born between 1980 and 1988). The percentage of engaged older millennials has declined by seven points, from 39% to 32%”
  • “The younger group of millennial and Gen Z employees (born 1989 or later) have experienced a five-point decline in engagement, from 40% to 35%”

I believe these generational engagement trends point to a few underlying themes:

Familiarity for baby boomers

  • With the push by many employers to return to the office full time (or at least part time), the older generations that are more attuned to this classic “face-to-face” workstyle are feeling more comfortable getting back to the traditional dynamics they are used to. This is likely a major factor driving the recent engagement increase among the baby boomers.

Personal and economic costs for younger generations

  • Conversely, the younger generations that were initially more comfortable with the remote/hybrid dynamic are less enthusiastic about the return of the dreaded commute, and the economic and personal costs that come with full time in-person work. 
  • A recent report by Gartner indicated that the average cost of coming into the office is roughly $62 per day when you add up the costs of commuting, buying lunch, and paying for childcare, eldercare and/or pet care. For younger generations just getting their footing in the working world, this represents a significant chunk of their income.
  • On top of these economic costs, the “return to office” push eliminates some of the flexibility and work/life balance considerations that the younger generations value so highly.

Returning to Gallup’s research, “millennials and Gen Z employees have seen the greatest decline in feeling cared about by someone at work, having opportunities to learn and grow, feeling connected to the mission of the organization, having progress discussions with managers, being given opportunities to develop, and feeling that their opinions count… These findings suggest that younger workers progressively feel more detached from their organizations and managers and are less likely to see a future for themselves in their current roles. And this generation of workers, especially, is looking for an employer with a purpose they can identify with.”

To address these dynamics, here are a few tips you could consider to re-engage this younger cohort:

Highlight your company’s purpose

  • Younger generations seek out organizations whose mission and purpose are aligned with their values. 
  • Demonstrate how your company lives its purpose. Visibly show them how their efforts will contribute to this purpose, and how they are making a positive difference in the world.
  • Our fantastic team at Porter Novelli has published extensive research and insights on purpose, which you can check out here.

Train your managers to connect more effectively with their teams

  • Oftentimes, people are promoted into managerial positions because they are good at the technical, day-to-day aspects of their role. But that doesn’t mean that these high performers are inherently skilled at managing a team. 
  • In my experience working with organizations of all sizes and industries, managers often lack formal training in how to communicate effectively with their team. 
  • Work with your Learning and Development teams to include a “Manager Communications 101” training that can build manager skillsets in connecting with their teams. 

Be clear about development opportunities and personal progress

  • Ensure that your career paths are clearly defined and available for newer employees to review. 
  • Be specific about the skills, accomplishments and goals that they must hit to reach the next level. 
  • Related to the previous tip, work with managers to give them the tools to have these progress discussions with their team. 
  • Once-a-year performance reviews are insufficient for providing consistent feedback. Younger generations experienced an educational upbringing where teachers provided a steady stream of positive and negative feedback. These younger groups expect that same approach from their employer, and can feel disengaged when they lack that real-time feedback.

If you are looking for further advice on keeping your staff engaged, motivated and connected to your company’s purpose, please drop us a line at PNEX@porternovelli.com!