Recruiting, Talent

Talent Retention: Understanding What Makes 3 Generations of Workers Tick

Look around your company. What do you see? Is everyone around you roughly the same age? Or does it vary?


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As we know, hiring diverse talent is great for business, but we’re not talking about skin color and gender here, we’re talking about age. And as they say, experience comes with age. So, does your company have a wide variety of “experience” or is it still pretty “green”?
With Gen Z and Millennials making up a large portion of the workforce a lot of focus has been on attracting and retaining these generations, but what Gen X and Baby Boomers? The older generations are still heavily involved in the U.S. workforce, so we should still be trying to attract and retain them as well.
If you’re interested in attracting and retaining all ages, Mercer’s 2019 Global Talent Trends report reveals new insights and “rules” into how you should go about doing so. The report also exposes certain drivers that unite the generations, such as being able to balance work and life in order to thrive. Job security is the main reason all generations stay with their employer, and competitive compensation is the main reason they leave. Here are a few key takeaways from the report:

Baby Boomers

As you know, Baby Boomers are the oldest generation of workers. Born between 1946 and 1964, some Boomers are headed towards retirement, but Mercer’s report finds that these experienced workers want to work, and this trend is set to continue as three-quarters of all employees say they intend to keep working past the normal retirement age.
Financial necessity is the main driver of this preference. Yet, stereotypes about older workers persist. Typically, they are seen as being less productive, less tech-savvy, and cramping youngsters’ career progression. But with more companies placing increasing emphasis on creativity for value creation, these arguments hold less currency. While conceptual reasoning skills may diminish with age, the corollary is that creativity and evaluative thinking—both vital for innovation—tend to increase.
Organizations can retain experienced workers by understanding their different priorities and motivations, says Mercer. Compensation is a key driver for Baby Boomers. They are more likely to cite meaningful work and a convenient office location as key reasons for joining a company.
Also, older workers feel they lack good coaching and career opportunities. Only 57% of Baby Boomers praise their manager’s skills in coaching and developing them (compared to two-thirds of Millennials), yet 73% of HR leaders say they provide specific support to managers in having career conversations with workers nearing retirement.

Generation X

Stuck in the middle in experience and often in seniority is Generation X—those born between 1965 and 1980. Despite being a workaholic (only two in five Gen Xers complain about workload versus more than half for other generations), they are stereotypically considered to be caught in a rut on delivery and struggle to think differently.
Moreover, Gen X is more likely than other generations to cite “corporate culture” as the culprit of an unhealthy workplace finds the Mercer report. Helping Gen X to get unstuck is a priority for any company seeking to attract a new generation and make progress on building the future of work because they are the champions of tomorrow and shaping organizational culture today.
Additionally, Gen X is the only cohort to rank working on meaningful projects among the top five things that would help them thrive in their roles. Mercer’s report highlights the others, which include managing work/life balance and being recognized for their contributions. When asked what would help boost performance, Gen X is more likely to ask for more aggressive management of under-performance, and better alignment of individual goals with business goals.

Generation Y (Millennials)

Although Millennials hoard much attention when it comes to building the workforce of the future, they are not less concerned about their place in an uncertain landscape. Mercer finds that one in three Gen Y employees are concerned that AI and automation will replace their job in the next 3 years, more than older generations. These findings about Gen Y stand out:

  • Gen Y is more likely than older generations to take on a new project at work without extra pay or benefits, or to exchange vacation days for experiences in other departments, to build a portfolio.
  • Eighty-four percent of Gen Y say they are willing to consider freelance or contingent work, more than the 74% of Baby Boomers who say the same. Yet, all generations continue to be apprehensive about the lack of a stable income if they take this route.
  • While the “potential for long-term career opportunities” is their number one reason for joining an organization, job security and opportunities for professional development are the main reasons they remain loyal.

When developing your people strategies, take the latest Mercer findings into account. As more generations enter—and leave—the workforce, your strategies will continue to grow and change over time. To learn more about the report, click here.

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