Your office may have the coolest amenities money can buy. However, none of them will retain your employees—not even your hip Millennials. To do that, you must learn the art of universal engagement.
People never seem to tire of talking about Millennials in the workforce, but we can’t forget all the Baby Boomer, Generation X, and Generation Z workers. A young entrepreneur may be tempted to fill an office with espresso machines and VR headsets, but those extra touches aren’t meaningful for workers of every generation. To ensure everyone feels valued, your culture has to be inclusive of both leaders and employees.
It sounds corny, but your business needs to be fun for all ages. Employees who feel valued are critical to a company’s long-term success, and those dedicated people are far more important than any gadgets you buy for your trendy break room.
Communicating from Different Worlds
Every generation is a little different than those that preceded it, but the differences are especially evident between Baby Boomers and members of Generation Z. Technology and social media have evolved exponentially in the 21st century, so there’s a generational gap in perceptions about what’s “normal.”
We all have different opinions on relaxation rooms, hierarchies, and telecommuting, but there are universal elements for a high-quality work environment that transcend generational boundaries. I see evidence of this every time I facilitate a week-long workshop filled with twentysomethings and fifty-somethings. I’m always pleasantly surprised by these workshops. Participants, regardless of age, end up discovering shared beliefs—particularly the value of working as a team.
This helps break down certain stereotypes. For instance, older generations believe young people prefer to work on their own and not engage with others. Yet, research tells us that 65% of Millennials prefer to work in a traditional office, and 72% of Gen Zs prefer in-person communication at work. The weeklong workshops help debunk these stereotypes, reminding all generations how invaluable engaging with others is to ultimately achieve success.
Regardless of generation, people want these five key features in their careers and in their lives. While the applications may differ, the cross-generational impact is boundless.
1. We want to feel valued. The majority of workers across generations would take less pay and work longer hours for an empathetic boss. In fact, my nephew expressed a similar sentiment to me the other day when I asked why he stays at his job. Leaders must approach employees with the belief that they’re smart, that they want to be challenged in their roles, and that they strive to succeed. Otherwise, that lack of respect will show in your behavior toward your team, and 65% of employees said respect is one of the greatest contributors to work satisfaction.
2. We want to foster strong relationships. This can only be achieved when trust levels are high. MetLife found 93% of workers think trustworthy leadership is important to workplace alignment. Everyone has a different style and personality, and understanding the nuances of each person is a great way to build meaningful relationships. Take your employees for coffee for one-on-one meetings and learn who they are beyond work, weekends, and the kids. The better leaders know their people, the better they’ll relate to them.
It’s also a great way to foster positive assumptions about what employees can (and want to) accomplish. After all, it’s easier to assume the best in people when you know them. And with less than half of employees trusting their companies, bosses, and colleagues, you can’t afford to be a stranger any longer. That cup of coffee is worth much more than a break room espresso machine.
3. We want to be treated like adults. A whopping 83% of employees report that when their employers act with integrity, their workplace satisfaction increases, but that’s hard to do in a culture that enables hidden agendas, silos, and other dirty politics. Engaging communication happens when we talk to people of any age like they’re intelligent adults who deserve respect.
No one—young or old—wants to be talked down to. Demeaning words, tone, and behavior are detrimental to building trust. People don’t quit companies; they quit bad managers and toxic cultures. Just over 32% of employees say they’d leave their current position because of a bad boss. It’s important for employees to feel they can be truly candid during conversations with leaders and colleagues.
4. We want to be fairly compensated—but salary isn’t our No. 1 priority. Case in point: 58% of workers would accept a lower salary to work with an awesome boss. If you build a high-performance workplace for them, employees of all ages will stay, even when they know they can make more money elsewhere. Yes, money is important. But approach salary with the belief that good people really do want to do great work and get better at their jobs. That’s the way it should be at work, and it’s accomplished by compensating everyone accordingly.
5. We want to feel challenged. Leaders must do a better job of setting higher expectations. Stop telling people to do the best they can because it creates the mind-set that any performance is acceptable. High expectations aren’t unrealistic—they’re a stretch beyond the status quo.
As relationships grow, trust accelerates. Over time, constructive feedback and positive reinforcement become second nature. And this repetition continues to raise the bar.
There are plenty of businesses that tout lavish perks like exercise rooms, daycare facilities, spas, and ping-pong tables. But people will still leave if they’re disengaged and feel like they have to be there. The key is creating a workplace where people want to work.
Bob Dusin is a partner of HPWP Group, a company that promotes leadership and organizational development through positivity, coaching, and problem solving. HPWP is driven to create high-performing workplaces by partnering with courageous leaders who value the contributions of team members.