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How to engage at every age: maximising productivity across a multi-generation workforce

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/gpointstudio)

Although many still see it as a taboo subject, age is one of the most influential factors in our lives. Our age can determine our opinions, actions, and often, our priorities – even at work.

With different motivational drivers, it has become an ongoing challenge for organisations to understand and adapt to the varying needs of the multigenerational workforce. It is, however, a vital consideration for businesses when it comes to encouraging engagement and boosting productivity.

Getting to grips with what matters most to staff – and acting on these insights – is imperative for a number of reasons. In addition to helping attract and retain the best talent, studies have repeatedly shown that companies with highly engaged teams are more likely to experience greater productivity levels and, in relation, more impressive profit margins. The most prosperous businesses, therefore, are those that can empower each and every individual across the workforce, regardless of which generation they are.

Identifying and interpreting personas

It has been said that up to five generations now coexist in the workplace. While those at the early end of the spectrum are accepting their first jobs and updating their LinkedIn profiles, others are living longer and retiring later.

This has left businesses trying to accommodate groups of employees with contrasting backgrounds, experiences and personal goals. In an attempt to better understand each generation, specific personas have been developed based on when people were born, therefore influencing their working habits and broader characteristics.

However, when it comes to identifying generational personas, it can be difficult to figure out exactly who fits where and what each group really means. It has been said that millennials thrive off of company culture, Baby Boomers crave challenge and thanks to Generation Z, we are seeing an increased desire for work-life harmony. But how many of these stereotypes contain an element of truth, and how do these labels translate in the workplace in relation to engagement?

What matters most

In spite of other differences, our most recent Employee Engagement Survey revealed that the various generations reported almost the same level of engagement within their jobs. However, when the results were broken down, there appeared to be one anomaly – the Baby Boomers. The findings from this group (aged between 55-73) didn’t quite align with those fitting either Millennial (23-38) or Gen Z (18-22) criteria.

When it came to enjoying their role and the work they do (52 per cent), collaborating well with the people they work with (48 per cent), understanding how their work contributes to overall company goals and success (28 per cent), and feeling fairly compensated for their work (26 per cent), Baby Boomers all ranked above average. However, scores were below average – including compared to the other generations – when asked about being part of a great company culture (16 per cent), having a clear growth path and opportunities for career progression (5 per cent), and having a motivating and inspiring CEO (3 per cent).

For Millennials and Gen Z, the primary reasons for being engaged at work were fairly similar, with career progression, a well-balanced workload and company culture topping the list. Those in the Millennial category, however, were 48 per cent more likely to rank pay as a top reason for being disengaged than other generations, with 40 per cent claiming ‘not making enough money’ impacts their engagement.

Finding common ground

While each generation and individual will bring their own unique preferences with them to work, as humans, our priorities and motivational drivers are more alike than these stereotypes may initially suggest. In fact, each of the groups ranked ‘I feel like my work is undervalued or unrecognised’ as their primary reason for feeling disengaged.

The study also revealed common ground when it came to what would help boost employee engagement. All of the generations said they would be more engaged at work if they had higher compensation or a better job title (42 per cent), greater recognition for their accomplishments (30 per cent), and a better work-life balance (24 per cent).

But when it came down to what would help staff be more productive, the results were interesting. The top answers – amongst Gen Z, Millennial, Gen X and Baby Boomers – were all focused on having better access to their work (including when working remotely) and having shared visibility of people’s work, whether that be from their manager or other team members.

Bridging the gap

Despite research repeatedly showing the connection between employee engagement and commercial success, many leaders are still struggling to bridge the gap. With little to no strategy in place linking productivity to profit, organisations are yet to fully recognise the need for a tactical plan, and the impact it can have on their revenue.

At the heart of every one of these strategies must lie employee engagement. When starting to form ideas and tactics, businesses need to consider the difference between engagement and satisfaction amongst staff.

Engagement is the level of passion that employees have for their work and, therefore, their desire to put in effort. These individuals feel a personal commitment to the organisation’s wider goals and its overall success. On the other hand, someone may get along great with their team and enjoy company benefits, but still not give 100 per cent when it comes to their work. This leaves valuable time that could be better utilised.

Time spent tracking down files, writing to-do lists, sifting through emails and waiting on responses from colleagues is often to blame for the gap between engagement and productivity. Being able to identify these frustrations and making sure they don’t become too much of a problem is key, as is being able to distinguish between a dedicated and engaged workforce, as opposed to a disengaged and unmotivated one. Both are essential when it comes to building a strategy that grows your business.

Every business is now made up of a generational mix, then diversified even further based on people’s individual personalities. When building an engagement strategy, it’s important for leaders to understand that generational profiles are a starting point, but the importance of employees being able to work to their own preferences cannot be overlooked. All employees value the ability to access their work effectively – be that from the office or when logging on remotely – as well as having a simple and efficient way to collaborate with their teams and balance workloads.

Employees are a business’s most valuable resource, so taking the necessary steps to optimise engagement cannot be overlooked. After all, it could mean the difference between a productive and profitable workforce, or a withdrawn one.

David McGeough, Director of International Marketing, Wrike

David McGeough is Director of International Marketing at Wrike. He has over 20 years of experience in the tech industry.