I was 25 and single when I bought my first house.

On my own. My parents didn’t co-sign — it was all on me. What an achievement! A huge step on the path towards the “American Dream”. Until my boss at the time burst my bubble, ever so slightly. His response to my new status as a homeowner:

“Fantastic! Now you need me more than I need you!”

That threw me. Of course, he didn’t mean it as literally as it sounds but there was an undeniable truth to his statement. For decades, we’ve been preconditioned to go down that path; to go to college, to get a “good” job, buy a new car, upgrade that car, purchase a home, get married, have kids….buy, buy, buy.

A world where employees needed their employers.

A changing workforce.

Today’s graduates aren’t falling for that one — they’re determined to live a simpler life. They will not be beholden to a mortgage and a job. They don’t need employers as much as we need them. At least not in the way they used to.

But these guys aren’t making up the bulk of the workforce just yet.

In your employee melting pot, you still have plenty of the older generation(s) and they’re not going anywhere soon. A recent Gallup poll reports the average American predicts they will retire at the age of 66. This is significantly older than previous studies.

It’s official: people are working longer.

So what does that mean for organizational leaders today? How do you motivate, communicate, and reward a workforce that spans five different generations? Generations with different priorities, work styles, and goals?

On staff, at one time, I employed both a 17-year-old and a 72-year-old. They heard things differently, they preferred different communication channels, and they wanted to be recognized and rewarded very differently. You probably see this too in your workforce today. My example represents the five distinct generations in many organizations today.

These generations include individuals born before 1946 (Traditionalists) to those born after 1997 (Generation Z), and each generation takes a different approach to employment and careers:

  •  Silent or Traditionalist — born before 1946 — their business focus is quality and working hard to maintain job security.
  •  Baby Boomers (25% of the workforce) — born between 1946 – 1964 — they’ve been trained to link productivity to the hours they spend at work and they’re reluctant to take too much time off for fear of losing their place on the team. You won’t find them clocking off early.
  •  Generation X (33% of the workforce) — born between 1965 – 1980 — they focus on productivity and because of their Baby Boomer parents they strive for a clearer balance between work and family.
  •  Generational Y, or Millennials (35% of the workforce) — born between 1981 – 1996 — they too strive to achieve a balance between work and family life but community involvement and self-development are also important to them — they want to contribute.
  •  Generation Z — born between 1997 – 2010 — their business focus is on co-creating and helping to shape their future with an emphasis on global, social, visual, and technological aspects.

How to communicate on a multigenerational level.

With so many different — sometimes conflicting — goals in a multigenerational workforce, effective communication isn’t always simple. But it is possible.

I have tried lots of different ways to engage, communicate, and reward the different generations in my workforce. Here’s what I have learned:

  1. Listen.

Engagement begins with understanding what your employees value regardless which generation they belong to. How do they want to be communicated with and how often? How do they want you to show your appreciation for the work they’re doing? What motivates them to come to work each day? Ask them!

  1. One size does not fit all.

You will never please all employees with one solution. Begin with clear, consistent communication messages to employees on multiple channels. Employees are looking for radical transparency and they expect you to link what they do contributes to the company’s business outcomes.

  1. Form an advisory council.

Invite a cross-section of the generations within your workforce to participate. Ensure you include not just age diversity but also gender and race differences. Allow this council to “represent” to you what your employees need and want. And, encourage them to communicate back to their peers what they’re learning about your organizational commitment to their development. You must meet your employees where they are and not expect them to come to you!

  1. Invest in mentoring.

If you don’t have a mentoring program in place, launch one! We can learn from one another. Multi-generational mentoring is a win-win for everyone.

The challenges facing today’s changing workforce is not about different generations – it’s about thinking differently. We can learn from these youngsters with big ideas and commitment to making a difference with the work they do. Don’t we all want to work for organizations that are purpose-driven, that encourage a healthy balance of work, family, and self-development? While the effort may be greater for employers today, it is worth it!

The next generation of employees may not need you in the way that I needed my first job after becoming a homeowner, but it doesn’t mean you can’t offer them something they do need. After all, an engaged employee will be significantly more effective than an employee just looking for a paycheck.

If your organization needs help implementing these strategies get in touch!