When we talk about DEI initiatives, we need to include all forms of diversity, including generational and age diversity, which is an important consideration in light of our current workforce. For the first time, there are 5 different generations represented in the workforce from Traditionalists to Gen Z. Employees within these generations each come with different values and perspectives that were shaped by the context in which they grew up and their individual experiences. This unique workforce requires a multipronged approach from organizations when attracting, developing, and retaining talent across generations.

First, and most importantly, we must see each employee as an individual. Even within a generation, one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to how to best engage with each person. Second, it’s important to be aware of generational implications that may be relevant to the workplace and adjust accordingly as we work to engage with employees of different backgrounds.

The 5 Generations That Make Up Our Workforce

People across generations tend to be motivated differently, communicate differently, and have different priorities. Below is a brief look at a few generational differences identified by Dr. Bea Bourne, DM, an expert on generational differences and generational response to organizational change.

  • Traditionalists (born 1925 – 1945)
    • Motivated by: respect, recognition, providing long term value to the company
    • Communication style: In-person, handwritten notes instead of email
  • Baby Boomers (born 1946 – 1964)
    • Motivated by: Company loyalty, teamwork, duty
    • Communication style: Whatever is most efficient, including face-to-face or phone calls
  • Gen X (born 1965 – 1980)
    • Motivated by: Diversity, work-life balance, personal professional interest over company interests
    • Communication style: Whatever is most efficient, including face-to-face or phone calls
  • Millennials (born 1981 – 1997)
    • Motivated by: Responsibility, the quality of their manager, unique work experiences
    • Communication style: IMs, texts, and email
  • Gen Z (born after 1997)
    • Motivated by: Diversity, personalization, individuality, creativity
    • Communication style: IMs texts, social media

With an understanding of these generational differences, how can you engage best and most effectively with your employees when you are attracting, developing, and working to retain them?

Attracting Talent

Attracting talent across multiple generations may require different means of recruiting such as where jobs are posted. While Millennials and Generation Z job seekers may look on social media platforms (like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and even Instagram) for job openings, these platforms may completely miss reaching individuals from different generations. In order to provide equal opportunity to people of all generations, look for candidates in a variety of places, including traditional job boards and networking events within your community.

Additionally, when thinking through job descriptions and benefits packages, it’s important to realize that each generation may expect different things as far as flexibility, work-life harmony, and compensation. Thus, it’s important to stay up to date on current trends and ensure your benefits reflect the needs of people in every life stage–from retirement planning to parental leave, to education and development allowance.

When it comes to assessing candidates, it is helpful to keep potential generational differences in mind as well, especially during the interview process. There may be differences between what Traditionalists think is important to put on a resume and what Millennials do based on what values they see as important in the workplace. When it comes to interviewing candidates, consider their comfortability with different types of interview styles–phone, video conference, or in person. You may find that older generations are less comfortable with a video chat than coming to an in-person interview and that younger generations prefer a video interview. These aspects may affect the candidate’s confidence and it’s important to not let that affect the hiring decision.

Developing Talent

Generational factors can also affect the way people process information or how they prefer to learn. While Millennials and Gen Z typically prefer self-paced, self-service training, Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, and Gen X might prefer a more structured approach. Though online, self-paced training may seem the most convenient for the organization, when creating training and development programs, it’s important to incorporate different elements or even different options that will serve a variety of learning styles.

Another important generational difference that may arise as you develop employees is the expectation of how soon raises or promotions happen. Millennials and younger generations expect raises or promotions more often than older generations, and these expectations may

need to be discussed and agreed upon to ensure all employees are treated fairly. While it may seem like generational differences come as challenges to employee and team development, generational differences can be very beneficial. Team collaboration and mentorship opportunities can provide valuable experiences for employees– those of older generations can impart wisdom to younger ones, and those of younger generations can give new perspectives to employees of older generations. This pairing together of different generations can be an excellent development opportunity.

Retaining Talent

You want each person to feel a sense of belonging and investment in their roles and the company. This may look different depending on the generation and where people are in their life. The professional goals of Traditionalists who are preparing to retire likely look very different than those of Gen Z who are just starting their careers. These are key factors to consider when determining what will keep people engaged and happy at work. For younger generations, it may be a solid development plan with a clear career path, and for mid-career generations, it may be enhancing workplace flexibility. To remain competitive in this evolving market, it’s key to stay up to date with data and trends on best practices to continue to iterate your benefits package so that employees feel they are being cared for during their tenure at your company.

Within any of these phases of the employee lifecycle, if there is a disconnect or conflict and you’re struggling to understand what might be at play, try taking a generational perspective. Are there certain generational values being compromised? Is there a better way to communicate about the issue? Are there cultural factors I am missing as well? Being aware of and sensitive to these differences will help you build stronger, lasting relationships with your employees.