A recent post by Christine Comaford got me thinking about a few things:
- How do we make sense of what seems like disparate generational data?
- Should we be focusing so intently on Millennials?
- Just how deep is the generational divide?
I’ve known Christine for a number of years and respect her opinions but I don’t agree with her view in this instance. In a recent post, she states:
The millennial workforce has the highest rate of unemployment and underemployment in the U.S. What does this mean? We’re missing out on a huge resource of talent. The real shocker? Of the millennials that are employed, only 29% are emotionally engaged at work and love their jobs. Whoa!
She then goes on to say:
If millennials continue to be emotionally disengaged in their jobs the companies they work for will suffer.
Making Sense of Disparate Data
It’s the engagement issue that caught my attention. Let’s take the 29% emotionally engaged data. This information comes from the recent Gallup Poll, What Millennials Want from Work and Life. And yes, Millennials are spectacularly unengaged. But NOT more unengaged than other generations. If we look back just three years to 2013, and yes, to another Gallup study, it states:
Baby Boomers have the lowest levels of engagement and highest levels of 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).
In fact, the Baby Boomer numbers from 2013, are somewhat similar Millennial numbers of today. So, lesson one, these engagement numbers vary widely and in a relatively short time frame across generations. What to make of this huge disparity? There are a few reasons… in 2013, Millennials made up approximately 14% of the US workforce, in 2014, 25% and in 2020, 46%. It’s possible that as the population gets larger, the sample population changes its characteristics.
It’s also possible that we are seeing a shift in the Boomer generation, driven by retirement. As Boomers retire, those that are still working are the ones that truly enjoy their work, so work longer and with more passion. The data demonstrate this to be the case. Higher engagement levels are noted for those who stay in the workforce as they age beyond 60. Yet workforce participation drops dramatically after age 60. The older working Boomers become, the more engaged they are. The changes we’re seeing are a reflection of intra-generational dynamics at work. For example, Millennials are the most diverse generation in history. According the US Chamber of Commerce Millennial Research Review:
The shifting population is evidenced with 60% of 18 – 29 year olds classified as non-Hispanic white, versus 70% for those 30 and older. This reflects a record low of whites, with 19% Hispanic, 14% black, 4%Asian, and 3% of mixed race or other. Additionally, 11% of Millennials are born to at least one immigrant parent.
Given the incredible diversity of this generation, it’s not surprising that we are seeing changes in the characterization of it. Therefore, it’s important not to accept broad generalizations about Millennials. Even more so than past, more homogenous generations.
Should We Be Focusing so Intently on Millennials?
Millennial disengagement is not the issue. It’s overall workplace engagement. Even accepting the intra-generational changes, at the end of 2011, Gallup’s, workplace engagement study, found that 71% of workers in the US were either “not engaged” or “actively disengaged.” And it’s been relatively consistent from 2011 thru the end of 2015.
In 2012, I wrote about the first set of Gallup engagement numbers, why they were important and what could be done about it using “Enterprise 2.0” tools. But I was wrong. The issue isn’t tools, its branding. To engage and build loyalty with customers, we build brand using social interaction, valuable content with transparency, and compelling experiences to drive customer loyalty and engagement. The same strategies can be used to engage an employee population. Unfortunately, most organizations don’t think to employ this type of strategy. Internal Branding through social engagement, great content with transparency and a compelling employee experience should address some of the fundamental issues around employee engagement — regardless of generation. The data suggest that this approach would work exceedingly well with Millennials, & Boomers and utilizing different tactics, Gen Xers.
Just How Deep Is the Generational Divide?
Not very. We’re not too different from one another. The American Society for Public Administration quotes a recent study published in the Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies:
Findings suggested that seven out of the 10 work values studied in their research showed significant similarities among all three generations. Those seven similar work values included:
- Flexible work arrangements.
- Work-life balance.
- Having a job that challenges.
- A company that provides continual training and development opportunities.
- Employee is involved in decision-making processes that affect employee’s work.
- Being financially rewarded for the work employee does.
The only three variables showing any standard deviation among the three generations were as follows
- An organization that values diversity.
- Getting immediate feedback and recognition from a supervisor.
- Career advancement opportunities within the company.
The Final Word
It’s exciting to talk about Millennials. They’ve become the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. And are the fastest growing generation of consumers. And it’s important to understand what engages and attracts them at the personal level. But they are not all that different from other generations — Boomers for instance. When Boomers were the age that Millennials are now they were considered: energetic, idealistic, entitled, put in a position to succeed by their parents, expecting government and corporate transparency, focused on social issues, supporting environmental change, justice seekers and rebellious… sound like another generation we know?
We must be cautious to not over utilize stereotypes or make broad statements regarding generational strategy when making individual decisions. Even when those decisions are based on research, too often, generational stereotypes foster discrimination of individuals in places of employment instead of recognizing and focusing on the uniqueness of each individual.
(Cross-posted @ AbleBrains)