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Strategies for Recruiting and Retention Across a Multi-generational Workforce (BOMA 2023)

June 27, 2023
In spite of their differences, people across generations generally value the same things at work. Here’s what they are and how managers can support employees across generational lines.

Most of us—regardless of which generation we belong to—have perceptions and opinions about the generations that preceded and are following us. Sometimes those characterizations have truth to them, but more often than not, they harm rather than help teams to operate at their best. And in today’s highly competitive job market, owners and managers can’t afford to let assumptions get in the way of attracting, engaging and retaining their workforce across multiple generations that are represented.

“It’s time to update your understanding of how generations work,” said Scott Lesnick, motivational leadership keynote speaker, author and president of Successful Business Solutions, LLC, in his presentation at the 2023 BOMA International Conference & Expo titled, “Inclusion, Retention, Belonging: How to Attract, Engage & Retain a 5-Generation Workforce.”

“Every generation moves this country forward,” he added, “just in their own way.”

Lesnick said while it’s tempting to make assumptions of the members of a particular generation, in order to retain them, it’s important to treat people as individuals rather than as a part of a group. Today’s employees can have up to five different generations working side by side, and productivity can decrease if your staff doesn’t understand the unique characteristics and talents each person/generation brings. After all, understanding and growing our talent and organizational culture creates opportunities for increased sales and productivity, higher retention and better communications between staff and departments.

With changes in workforce demographics happening rapidly as older generations retire and newer ones rise up, Lesnick led attendees through an overview of the different characteristics of each generation and challenged attendees to consider how they can more effectively engage with others—a skill that will continue to be increasingly important for owners and managers.

A Comparison of Generations: Who They Are and How They Work

Of course, each generation shares certain characteristics, and understanding how members of these groups tend to work can help foster greater empathy and understanding across your team.

Baby Boomers. Boomers (people between the ages 59-79) currently make up 25% of the workforce, a statistic that is changing rapidly as nearly 3 million people retire every year. Members of this group tend to be workaholics but get personal fulfillment from work; they prefer face-to-face communication and email; they like meetings and can work remotely; they are “good but not great with technology,” Lesnick noted; and they do not tend to balance work and life particularly well.

Interestingly, this group of seasoned professionals has a tremendous amount of knowledge that can be incredibly valuable to younger generations, but few organizations know how to facilitate that transfer of knowledge. “Mentorship is hugely important, but it’s interesting to see how little we invest in it,” Lesnick pointed out.

Gen X. More than a third of today’s workforce is made up of Gen X’ers. Raised by Boomers, this generation grew up learning to be independent and was the first to question old ways of doing things. People in this group (ages 41-58) tend to communicate best via text, email and face-to-face; they want fast, immediate feedback; many may require greater flexibility as they balance work/life needs of raising children and caring for aging parents; and they are more adept using technology than their predecessors.

Gen Y/Millennials. Employees between the ages of 26 and 40 who make up the Gen Y or Millennial generation are currently the largest demographic in the workforce—a number that will continue to increase in the coming years. Lesnick said this generation, in particular, has been given a bad reputation because they are misunderstood. Millennials have a tremendous amount to offer employers, and “it’s a losing battle fighting this generation,” Lesnick noted.

Millennials are incredibly fast learners, think outside the box and are open to new ideas; they are very social, confident and realistic; they are good at multi-tasking and can easily adapt to remote work; they tend to be entrepreneurial, creative and passionate—and also much more casual than previous generations. Members of this group prefer to communicate via text and email, but also prefer direct communication including feedback and praise.

Gen Z. While Gen Z only comprises 5% of the workforce today, that number will continue to increase in the years ahead. People in this group (ages 12-26) are unique in that many of them don’t distinguish between their hobbies and their jobs, and their strength lies in their network of peers. They are fast learners, driven, confident yet cautious in that they want to succeed. Not surprisingly, Gen Z communicates best via their smartphones.

What Can Managers Do?

So, what’s an owner or manager to do with all of this information, and how can it translate into better recruitment and retention? Lesnick offered several strategies for how to create a culture that supports multigeneration employees, which begins with getting more engaged through leadership. “Mingle often, listen and schmooze,” he said.

It’s also critical to have an organizational climate that supports inclusion, belonging and DEI initiatives. He also urged managers to show staff how you care about your employees’ growth and wellbeing, while recognizing and discussing commonalities and differences in people, culture and generations. Finally, “have open communications,” Lesnick added, noting that listening is in the top two things that employees want most out of their employers.

7 Things That Connect Us

In spite of all of our differences, Lesnick said, ultimately, people want the same things and actually share more commonalities than differences. He identified seven things every employee values regardless of their age:

1. Respect

2. Listening

3. Mentoring/training

4. Big picture

5. Communication

6. Positive feedback

7. Ideas/information/knowledge

“Companies that will win in hiring staff have the best reputations, most engaged workforce and are the ones who care about employees’ needs and wants. And they listen!” he concluded.

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