The link between employee engagement and company success has been well established by Gallup and others. But what drives that engagement? As we heard from Dan Pontefract during SAPPHIRE NOW’s Future of Work Forum this week, workplace actualization is key – each employee needs to feel a sense of contribution. Jacob Morgan spoke in this track as well, with recommendations around modernizing the workplace and challenging conventional wisdom related to the way we work, the way we lead and the way we organize.

The Hidden Truth Behind Employee Engagement

What may not be obvious is that there’s another side to employee engagement that most organizations are not addressing: generational intelligence. According to Karie Willyerd, co-author of The 2020 Workplace, and VP Learning & Social Adoption at SuccessFactors, generation, more than any other factor, determines what employees want from their employer.

The notion is that each generation has different attitudes and expectations, having grown up in a different world during their formative years. And furthermore, these attributes transfer over to the workplace. Overlaid on that are different work-life stages (e.g. early career, family stage, etc.) and these stages also result in differing requirements.

If we tie that to employee engagement, we realize that we need to ensure we meet the unique needs of each generation and work-life stage in order to keep employees engaged. Yet, Catalyst notes that there doesn’t seem to be a systematic effort within organizations to address generational intelligence from a strategic standpoint.

Are You Ready for Josh?

Much has been published about the Millennials – the rising tidal wave of young workers who will comprise 50% of the workforce by 2020 and 75% by 2025. They are the first generation of a size to rival the Baby Boomers, and have come to their jobs in different ways and with different expectations.

Consider Jacob Morgan’s 22 year-old brother Josh. Josh may not have a traditional post-secondary education, has never seen a cubicle, and doesn’t know what it’s like to receive 200 emails per day. Imagine his reaction to legacy enterprise software!

Millennials are forcing organizations to rethink recruiting, incentives, how they structure work, and who they promote as leaders.

What About Everyone Else?

To be sure, the organizational changes spurred on by the Millennials will benefit the entire workforce – many people want flexible job environments, for example. However, this is not the whole story. How can the rest of the organization properly embrace this diversity and absorb such an influx of differently-thinking individuals?

With five generations in the workplace simultaneously, all this focus on the Millenials can leave the other four generations feeling a bit left out. Gallup’s July 2013 “State of the American Workforce” reported that Baby Boomers and Generation X are the least engaged cohorts – and these are the very people organizations will need to develop their young talent. Millennials will need to be fast-tracked into leadership, because the population demographic in many developed countries will create a management shortage as Baby Boomers retire, and there are not enough Generation X’s to fill the gap.

The Last Words

We’ve discovered that a one size fits all approach to work no longer works. If we can embrace generational intelligence, provide more personalized job experiences, and ensure that no one gets bogged down in generational stereotypes – but rather embraces generational diversity – we can tap into the collective value of our workforce in the most productive way.

For guidance and inspiration, the Future of Work Forum replays can be found online at http://sapphirenow.com. Please check out Gear Up for the Future of Work by Challenging Convention by @jacobm, and Promote Employee Engagement with a Collaborative Leadership Model by @dpontefract.

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