There’s a Generation Gap in Your Workplace

August 7th, 2013

Baby Boomers and Gen X employees are distinctly less engaged than others -- and they make up 88% of the U.S. workforce

People say the Baby Boom generation, because of its size, always gets what it wants. That may be true in many realms, but not in the workplace. Baby Boomers -- along with Generation X employees -- are distinctly less engaged at work than other generations.

Baby Boomers have the lowest level of engagement and the highest level of active disengagement.

The oldest and youngest workers in the American workplace are the most likely to be engaged, according to Gallup research. Traditionalists (born in 1945 or earlier) have the highest level of engagement at 41% engaged, followed by 33% for Millennials (born in 1981 or later). That's great news -- except those generations are also by far the smallest percentage of the workforce. Together, they comprise only 12% of all employees in the U.S.

The overwhelming majority of workers are either Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) or part of Generation X (born 1965-1980) -- and they are distinctly less engaged. Employers would be wise to find ways to boost engagement among those in the middle generations, as they comprise 88% of today's workforce.

Engaging Baby Boomers and Generation Xers

Baby Boomers have the lowest level of engagement and the highest level of active disengagement of all the generations in the U.S. workforce -- with nearly one in four actively disengaged -- which poses a serious management problem. And don't expect Baby Boomers to solve this engagement problem by retiring.

The oldest members of this generation were approaching retirement age as the economic crisis began, and many may be delaying retirement to build up depleted savings, repay additional debt incurred during the downturn, or wait for their portfolios to recover lost value. In the meantime, other Baby Boomers may delay retirement because they prefer to keep working. Factors like these may keep more Baby Boomers in the workforce for many years to come.

What's more, as this generation comprises such a large part of the working population, making a targeted effort to raise its members' engagement levels could have important ramifications for companies and the overall U.S. economy. Employees in this generation respond to managers who make an extra effort to show they care. Managers should keep this in mind during day-to-day interactions and find ways to communicate interest in these employees by inquiring about their work and other important aspects of their lives.

For Baby Boomer employees, as well as Generation Xers, engagement is connected to having a strong sense of their company's mission and purpose. Businesses that can find ways to help them understand and embody what their company stands for -- and what it means to them personally -- will keep them engaged or increase their engagement.

The mobile workforce: Millennials

Millennials -- the first to come of age in a culture saturated with mobile technology and social media -- are reportedly changing the marketplace and workplace. Millennials are generally more upbeat about all aspects of engagement than are Baby Boomers or members of Generation X, but Millennials are specifically more positive about growth and development opportunities.

And Millennials seem to be more mobile than workers in other generations in one other important way. Despite their higher engagement levels, they are particularly prone to job hopping. Millennials are the most likely of all generations to say they will leave their company in the next 12 months if the job market improves.

To increase retention among Millennials, businesses need to emphasize engagement and provide plenty of opportunities to learn and grow. While nearly half of actively disengaged Millennials want to find new jobs, only 17% of engaged ones do.