Employee Engagement in a Generationally Divided Work Culture

The generational divide is growing. If companies look to have high retention and engagement amongst Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z, they must pay attention to how this division occurs and its impact on productivity, loyalty, and trustworthiness. Including all generations starts with three questions…

by Future Cain — March 21, 2023

More than 1000 Americans were surveyed on their attitudes toward generational diversity and nearly 9 in 10 respondents (89%) considered generational diversity in the workplace as something positive. Workplace dynamics, including equity, belonging, diversity, and inclusion continue to be at the forefront of many organizations’ agendas. Four main generations are active in today’s workforce, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z. One size doesn’t fit all. If organizations seek to include all generations, there are three questions that come to mind for leaders to reflect on regarding age diversity:


1. How does a company recognize when to take action?

Workplace expectations are changing and it is difficult for many leaders to recognize when to take the initiative. No organization wants to be forced to take action because it was spotlighted in the news or called out by someone on social media and that is exactly what some workplaces were forced to do. 

Companies are realizing that when they cultivate a workplace culture where employees feel comfortable speaking up, bringing new ideas and opportunities for growth follow. In recent times, many investors and shareholders are requesting equity audits to demonstrate their environmental, social, governance (ESG) impact. When the lines of communication are kept open between all workers it is easier to recognize when to take action and it can help with civil rights, social justice, and belonging, equity, diversity, and inclusion (BDE&I) issues. 

While audits are a great tool, equity consultants often remind companies that any assessment is data from a moment in time and that an assessment is just the beginning of the path to equitable workplaces. This journey to equity should also include listening sessions where employees’ voices can be heard from a neutral third party or by those internally who employees trust to share with vulnerably. Leaders are choosing to talk less and listen more since they can gain valuable insight and information. 

A few questions leaders can ask their employees are:

  1. What can the company do differently, and what are we doing well?
  2. Have we given feedback before and what changes have we seen come from that?
  3. Tell us more about equity, belonging, diversity, and inclusion at [the organization].
  4. If you could give someone who is in their first year on the team advice what would it be?
  5. What might tempt you to leave and what might keep you here?

After the equity audit, key findings, and listening sessions are known, it is imperative internal leaders take action to remedy all inequities that were unearthed, otherwise, they will lose trust with those they asked to participate in supporting the evolution of the company. Just as organizations are evolving, so are their employees. Some of these employees keep providing feedback to those who aren’t making any internal changes therefore the employees are choosing to leave which will cost any company tens of thousands of dollars. That alone should be reason enough to take action so no employee feels ignored, especially those who are long-standing employees.


2. What can I do as a leader for my older or more long-standing employees that feel ignored?

In recent times, companies have been asking how to accommodate all generations’ voices, wants, and needs, especially those who have been loyal to the company. Much emphasis has been on the Millennials and one must not forget that other generations have a plethora of positives too. Baby Boomers and Generation X are less apt to job hop, they represent a large percentage of the buying population, and they are often more quick to problem solve as they have many years of lived experience. They too, like other generations, are looking for harmony and alignment with their values.

If leaders are being intentional about creating harmonious, equity-focused cultures that authentically support belonging, inclusion, and diversity where all employees feel seen, heard, and belong, they will focus on bringing generations together regardless of who is transitioning out or into the workforce. This supports peace, productivity, and profitability for everyone.

Before being intentional about bringing the generations inside the workplace together, leadership should reflect upon a few questions:

  • What are the tapped or untapped benefits each generation offers to their workplace?
  • How is the organization honoring the legacy of its employees and the expertise they bring?
  • Have they paired generations to have Baby Boomers or Generation X mentor Millennials, and Generation Z? If not, why not?

After a company answers the questions they will find that the opportunities are limitless when leaders embrace maximizing the multi-generational workforce and welcome the many different talents and gifts they each bring. While navigating through this, don’t overlook the generation that makes up more than 50% of the current leadership roles and is only 16% of the population. Gen X is often forgotten about and this generation has many attributes including, loyalty, a commitment to development, and being tech-adept, according to DDI research


3. How can an organization bring together different generations of employees?

Any organization would be remiss by choosing not to engrain cross-generational mentorship into its organization’s processes. Recent survey reports found that retention rates were 50% for employees with mentors compared to those without. Both generations benefit from mentorship due to less competition and can act as a mentor and mentees, upskilling one another. This encourages employees to step out of their comfort zone and gain new skills that apply to personal and professional growth. 

This mentorship creates a culture of opportunity, closing skill gaps while passing veteran knowledge down to those who will follow in their roles and expertise. Additionally, this collaboration can build internal networking and relationships, bringing a sense of community that results in improved culture, employee motivation, creativity, and satisfaction. Companies can build a strong purpose through mentorship that allows employees to explore their individual and collective capabilities including soft skills, which are needed as we continue in a stress epidemic. 

If companies are looking to have high retention, engagement, and profits, they need to be aware that employees stay when they feel they belong. How people feel has an impact on productivity, loyalty, and trustworthiness since we are emotional beings. Equity starts at the top and the array of emotions we experience can haunt us or help us for a lifetime. That is something every leader and workplace should never forget because human actions and words leave everlasting imprints and impressions.  

Key takeaways in a Blink:

  • Voice and choice go a long way
  • Mentorship is something companies shouldn’t skip
  • A requirement is a work-life alignment


About the Author

Future Cain is the Founder and CEO of Future of SEL. As an equitable social emotional leader and workplace wellness expert, Future works with organizations, institutions, and individuals to enhance the culture, health, and well-being of others. With over two decades of experience in education and leadership, her career spans across several industries including the private behavioral sector, education, small businesses, and large corporations.

Future has been featured in the New York Times, Forbes, and Harvard Business Review, has been honored as Rotarian of the Year, and is an international speaker. Future sits on the executive board for Rotary’s World Seminar for high school students, is a mom to two who resides in Wisconsin, and is a certified yoga instructor passionate about the mental health and well-being of all adults and children.

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