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How to Balance Engagement Across 5 Generations in 1 Workforce

 Managing in today’s workplace can be quite the balancing act. While not fit for the circus, engaging five generations within one organization could be a performance of its own. After all, what worked for yesteryear’s worker likely won’t for tomorrow’s. It can be a constant struggle to keep engagement high among the generations’ varying needs.

How they differ

With every generation comes a blanket description:

  • The silent generation (1928-1945): These hardworking employees are often known as traditionalists. They see employment as a privilege, due to their involvement in the Great Depression and World War II.
  • Baby boomers (1946-1964): Currently the largest generation in existence, baby boomers have a strong work ethic and enjoy goal setting. Because of their large numbers, boomers are highly competitive and resourceful.
  • Generation X (1965-1980): Marking the decline of the post-WWII birth boom, Gen X leads the charge in diversity and flexibility in the workplace. Many Gen Xers struggled through a rough economy and high divorce rate, so they place a high value on work-life balance.
  • Millennials (1981-1996): Millennials are now the largest generation in the workforce, surpassing Gen X in 2018. Its members grew up with cell phones and other digital tech, creating employees accustomed to instant communication and easily adaptable to new situations.
  • Generation Z (1997-present): The youngest generation, Gen Z craves working for a cause. They use innovation, technology and creativity to achieve their professional goals, which tend to be lofty.

If only it were as easy as a two-sentence description. These statements, though informational, do not describe every worker in each generation. In fact, it is detrimental for an organization to tailor its engagement efforts to these basic assumptions.

Knowing the individuals making up your workforce is crucial to high employee engagement, yet many organizations fail in these efforts; Gallup estimates disengaged employees cost U.S. companies up to $550 billion in lost productivity. Rather than blanketing your efforts to reach younger workers, older workers and those in between, consider the following factors when formulating engagement efforts:

Two-way communication

Communication helps bridge the gap between employers and their workforce. Knowing how your workers respond to engagement efforts is critical to succeeding. Take time to discover your team members’ likes and dislikes when it comes to feedback, as well as understand what motivates them to work. Some may want monthly reviews, while others crave daily short conversations. Though blanket descriptions suggest a millennial employee might opt for the latter, some individual millennials may be more receptive to monthly visits.


Four out of 10 workers are actively disengaged when they receive little or no feedback. But how should it be delivered to workers of different generations? Asking questions regarding feedback may not be as tough as it seems; an informal one-on-one discussion or a survey can help gauge preferences. Feedback is essential to employee engagement, as it gives workers incentive to continue doing their best work. People want praise and structure within their work life.

With employers tending to treat the generational “boxes” as framework for how to treat certain employees in that generation, attempting to deliver feedback this way could cost you. Push aside stereotypes for the betterment of your organization, as these descriptions may define a generation, but not a particular employee. Understanding your workers and their personal characteristics can provide a clearer way to deliver engagement efforts.


Motivation is key to high employee engagement through its ability to improve performance. Motivating employees can increase their willingness to work, but employers must understand each employee’s unique preferences. Incorporate these preferences while using the four main desires of employees for motivation:

  • Respect and appreciation
  • Opportunity for growth
  • Progress of development
  • Recognition of good work

Common preferences of employees will help you understand what motivates your workforce and drive healthy communication practices.

 Diversity of age and thought

A diverse working age can be incredibly valuable to a company in terms of growth and success. Creating an inclusive environment can help align an organization’s mission and increase engagement through promoting diverse thoughts and ideas. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, age diversity in the workforce improves productivity and reduces employee turnover.

In an effort to promote diversity of thought, some companies team senior executives with younger workers to help bridge the generational gap and understand the needs of both sides. This opens communication channels for new ideas and goal setting. Senior executives learn more about technology and how to communicate with younger generations, while younger employees absorb important institutional knowledge that organizations lose as older generations retire.

In employing members of different generations, companies gain insight from the distinct experiences of each. While one worker sees a situation one way, another could see it in a completely different light, allowing for the free flow of conversation and collaboration. Promoting diversity in age among your workforce allows employees to feel valued and engaged while remaining committed to the company’s goals.

Having five generations of workers on the payroll can cause companies to let engagement strategies slip into “umbrella” mode, ignoring an organization’s distinct and diverse culture. To increase engagement and drive performance, take steps to ensure members of each generation in your workforce are heard; all bring valuable insight and experiences to the table.