Managing a multigenerational workforce presents organizations with a variety of challenges. These challenges include the brain drain that occurs as experienced baby boomer employees retire and less-experienced generations take their place as well as situations in which multiple generations interact and coordinate work together.
Before addressing how organizations should handle these generational issues, the more important questions are: Are millennials really different from other generations? If so, how exactly are they different
To answer these questions, Denison Consulting reviewed the existing research on this topic and conducted a study. From the research, it was apparent that while there are common beliefs about millennials (e.g., they are lazy, they have an attitude of entitlement), some of them are largely based on myths.
Mixed Evidence on Generational Differences
The review of existing research revealed some evidence on generational differences. First, there is some convincing evidence that personalities have shifted a bit both in general and in relation to work. Younger generations tend to be more extroverted and conscientious; they regard themselves in an increasingly positive manner. Researchers predict that this means the millennials would be interested in careers that are expressive of extroversion and social influence.
Also, millennials put more emphasis on and express a greater need for work-life balance. Although they spend just as much and often more time working compared to older generations, they are different from older generations who were and are more accepting of work interfering with their family or personal life, and vice versa.
Millennials have more technology-related expertise. Especially with the use of social media, they are used to having access to information and people, and believe they can easily find something or someone. They are connected with others more than before.
Although these research findings seem to point to clear generational differences, other studies revealed little or no differences. For instance, a recent meta-analysis suggests that millennials are just as satisfied, committed and engaged as other generations. While many expect to see generational differences in terms of commitment, satisfaction, turnover, etc., the research findings are still mixed — meaning it is difficult to make clear conclusions on this one.
Generational Differences in Employee Engagement
Denison Consulting conducted a study with 34,592 employees from 204 divisions of three large organizations. They collected data through a survey on the organizational culture of employees’ division/function and individual engagement at work. As expected, baby boomers reported the highest level of engagement, followed by Gen X and then millennials. This difference was statistically significant. However, in work divisions characterized by a more effective, high-performing culture (i.e., a low level of involvement, consistency, adaptability and mission), generational differences were smaller.
Employee engagement may indeed be different among generational cohorts, but it is important to understand it in the context of organizational culture. Also, organizations that build and manage effective culture are likely to have a highly engaged workforce. This study provides insight on managing employee engagement, especially among millennials. Although employees’ generation or age cannot be changed, their organizational and work group culture can be managed and reshaped. Organizations may improve engagement by creating a more positive, stronger organizational culture.
What millennials want is an organization that can help them develop as professionals, advance their career and make an impact. They want an organization that can also support telework and work-life balance. They are attracted to an organization that is known for being a good place to work and high performing in the market. Organizations that can build a culture of high performance and use that culture to build a brand as an employer and drive performance will be more likely to attract and retain the capable millennials.
“Can you tell me about your culture?” is now a frequently asked interview question by interviewees. What does your culture look like? How does your organization describe and show off your culture to the newest generation entering the workforce? How does your organization’s culture help or hinder managing the different generations? Now is the time to be more thoughtful about responding to these questions, and be intentional about driving an organizational culture to manage the multigenerational workforce successfully.
Ia Ko is a research consultant for Denison Consulting. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.