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Generational Diversity and Employee Engagement

12 May

Joe Gerstandt, author of the blog Our Time To Act, commented today about the findings in our book on employee engagement and generational diversity. Joe is passionate about helping organizations appreciate “the value of difference”.

Our research shows that as an organization becomes more age diverse employee engagement suffers. It is an important example of how most organizations are struggling with diversity, in this case having four unique generations in the workplace.

In part, Joe reflects on these results:

Diversity is hard.

Most really important, really valuable stuff is hard.  Honesty is hard.  Change is hard.  Leadership is hard.  So is diversity.

Increasing the diversity (or difference) in a social group changes that social group. Always. Every time. Any time you bring more difference or pay more attention to existing difference in a social group you increase the potential for in-group/out-group dynamics, stereotyping, tension, conflict, etc.  We have a very real tendency to see difference as the cause of these dynamics, but this is not about the difference…these outcomes are about the container that the difference exists in.

Joe asked me to offer up more details on our research, which I’m delighted to present. These findings are based on a study of over 3,200 US employers. (By the way, we’ve had folks ask about how diversity in gender or ethnicity impacts employee engagement. Those demographics are not currently collected in survey from our friends at Quantum Workplace— good idea for future research!)

From Re-Engage, pages 36-38:

We conducted a novel analysis of the results from Best-Places-to-Work surveys to determine whether the more age-diverse employers had lower engagement levels. In other words, we asked: “Does having a broader and more balanced spectrum of ages represented in the workforce reduce an employer’s chances of creating a highly engaged workplace?”

The results of our analysis-after controlling for other company characteristics such as age, position type, company size, and tenure-showed us that greater variation in age within a company actually has a negative impact on engagement. The statistical results were quite eye-opening.  It turns out that, after controlling for the variables described above, the level of generational diversity accounts for more than 25 percent of the variance in employee engagement. Said another way, this single variable, what we call the Generational Diversity Indicator (GDI), is a significant factor in the ability of an organization to create a highly engaged workplace.

How much of an impact does this single factor have on employee engagement? The greater the age diversity (the higher the GDI), the less likely the employer will have high engagement scores.

For example, according to our study:

  • If an employer has a slightly age-diverse workforce (more than 1.5 on our scale), it is three times more likely to have a lower overall engagement score.
  • If the employer has a moderately age-diverse workforce (more than 2.0), it is five times more likely to have a lower overall engagement score.
  • If an employer has a highly age-diverse workforce (more than 3.0), it is six times more likely to have a low overall engagement score.

Even the best of Best-Places-to-Work employers find generational diversity challenging. The CEO of one winning company, who has primarily hired younger employers at his technology-based services company, has admitted to failures in assimilating older employers into the culture. He states: “Older employees often have perceptions of work which aren’t necessarily wrong, but are very different than our culture. We’ve had a few who didn’t make it because they were rejected by younger employees before they even had a chance to succeed.”

The correlation between greater age diversity and lower engagement applies to employers regardless of average workforce age-in other words, regardless of which generation is predominant in the organization. Thus a relatively homogenous company of mostly Boomers or mostly Generation X-ers is more likely to have a higher level of employee engagement than an employer with more generational diversity.

In summary, a company’s GDI is a revealing demographic, potentially indicating a significant challenge to its efforts to develop a highly engaged workforce. Most employers aren’t going to resist the demographic trend and economic necessity of generational diversity just because it makes employee engagement more challenging.  The tide cannot be turned. We all will need to accept this phenomenon while working to lessen any negative effects and turn increased diversity to our advantage where we can.

Margaret Mead and Managing Four Generations At Work

23 Feb

(from our book web site: Re-Engage)

The cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead is responsible for coining the term “generation gap”, describing the challenges she saw in the 1970’s between two distinct generations. Those challenges may have become even more difficult, as for the first time in recorded history, we now have four unique generations at work. In conducting our research for Re-Engage we discovered a significant barrier to creating and maintaining an engaged workplace-the more diverse a workplace becomes, the more difficult it is to have a high level of employee engagement. Bringing more so-called Generation Y (aka Millennials) into the workplace to join Generation X, Baby Boomers and Traditionalists makes creating a great workplace much more challenging.

We did, however, identify one hopeful finding that can help an employer overcome this new generation gap-the challenge of a more generationally diverse workforce can be lessened by achieving higher levels of employee engagement. In other words, the more engaged workplaces have fewer spats between the generations. In fact, more engaged workplaces seem to be embracing the generational diversity and using that diversity to their advantage. Consider the following comments:

“The culture of this organization provides you with the opportunity & the atmosphere for success, as well as the tools & training to accomplish corporate & personal goals. Although the firm is privately held, ownership treats all employees as if they are stock holders & shares the fruit of success accordingly. Fortunately, we have numerous second generation employees working here, which is a testament that the first generation approves of the sense of success that future generations will achieve & have promoted the idea that their sons & daughters can achieve personal & professional success at this firm.”

“As part of the executive level management I am inspired by the new generation of leadership at the company. The second generation has taken over the management of the company and has maintained and enhanced the strong culture of the company, a culture with a focus on mutual respect and offering leadership opportunities to younger professionals.”

If we look at the other side of the coin we see employees who don’t feel their employers are doing an effective job of managing an increasingly age-diverse workplace:

“I believe the executive levels should gain a better understanding of the generational diversity within the workforce and the motivators for each group. The company has a lot of ‘unspoken rules’ that are old fashioned and based off of old ideas of what the ideal business person should work and look like.”

“Allow employees to make suggestions that will help benefit the growth of the company and make it more efficient. The mentality of doing what was done 15 years ago is scaring off the younger generation of employees.”

The differences are clear-some companies will succumb to the ghost of Margaret Mead and be crushed by the weight of a more generationally diverse workforce, while others will thrive and prosper in this diversity. Mead offers advice we should apply in helping all generations work and thrive together: “If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse human gift will find a fitting place.”

Can’t Ya Just Feel Their Engagement?

6 Feb
Boy, here’s the look of three young people that are just thrilled to be working!
I know the photo is a bit dramatic, but it does raise an important issue, that being the level of employee engagement of the younger generation. After careful statistical analysis of over 300,000 employee engagement surveys we can report that employee engagement does vary by age. In fact, our studies clearly show that older employees are generally more engaged than younger employees. There are, of course, exceptions to this statement, but the general rule holds true.
Is this the fault of the younger generation? Are they simply not as motivated as Boomers like me? I think not. I believe the responsibility for those gaps lies, in great part, at the feet of management. Many organizations have yet to figure out how to more effectively engage younger workers. I’m convinced this  most recent generation to join the workforce is very motivated– we just need to figure out how we can motivate them when they come to work. Remember, engagement is what leaders do to create an environment that is conducive to:
  • people feeling energized for what they do,
  • makes them want to go the extra mile, and
  • keeps them from looking for other employment.

Employee engagement, then, is something we as leaders can largely control. It is our charge to create the conditions necessary to engage all employees, young and old alike– even more important now as we face this difficult economic times.

 (This is the first in a series I am calling “Funny Photos”. Our topic will remain earnest, but the photo, I hope, will bring a smile. We can and should take this work seriously, but we don’t have to always take ourselves seriously, right? Enjoy your weekend.)