Baby Boomers the Secret Key to Engagement?

by | Jun 10, 2009 | Employee Free Choice Act, Positive Workplace

A recent study by Boston College’s Sloan Center on Aging & Work, researchers found that employee engagement among younger workers has dropped significantly during this recent economic downturn. That’s not really surprising – as I discuss in my book The Next 52 Weeks, job security is one of the keys to job satisfaction. What is surprising is that the engagement of older workers has hardly budged during this economic downturn. The research team suggests that the reason for this difference probably lies in the greater experience of Baby Boomers – they have been through many downturns and know that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Due to their seniority and experience, it is probably also true that they are the least likely to lose their jobs in a layoff. Younger workers – especially those Generation Y employees who have recently entered the job market (and in many companies are more likely to be laid off I might add) don’t have the same experience. These younger workers are more disengaged. Generation X workers fall somewhere in the middle (perhaps because they were working during the “Internet Bubble” and have at least that experience under their belts). You can view the whole study here. This research has some interesting implications for people planning their employee engagement and Employee Free Choice Act communications. First, it makes sense to think about how to communicate to each of these three “cohort” groups or segments. It is really important to think about your messaging based on your audience. The message – and even the communication channel – may change based on the group you are trying to reach. Younger workers are more likely to pay attention to things like websites, text messages and social networking platforms (like blogs, twitter feeds, facebook pages, etc.). Video content for Generation Y (and probably Generation X as well) should be bite-sized (think YouTube video clips). They are probably most interested in whether or not they are going to have a job. They may be motivated by the idea that this is an opportunity for them to pick up new skills. Baby Boomers are more likely to digest information using more traditional channels (paper newsletters, meetings, longer form videos). They will be most concerned about how the downturn is going to impact their retirement nest egg. Many have lengthened their horizon for work and are hoping to ride the market up for a while before they leave. In addition to layoffs, these delayed retirements can also be a demotivator to Generation X employees who saw a potential promotion in their immediate future. This is another issue that must me managed. One can read too much into “age-cohort” research, but it is powerful. If you have any interest in this subject I recommend taking a look at a book called Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069 (you can view it on Amazon here). This book is an exhaustive study (and I mean exhaustive – I’ll admit I skimmed a lot of the dense descriptions of each generation) of how the “frame” of your age cohorts has a major impact on world events. They go so far as to say that this historical understanding can also predict major events that will happen in future generations. It is a fascinating idea. Whatever your belief about the predictive power of age-cohorts, there is no doubt that your “frame of reference” (I call this the prism which focuses – and distorts – how you view things happening around you) will dramatically impact how you feel about an event. Whether that frame is based on age, or based on other factors, it plays an important role in your response. Today we recommend that our survey clients (you can get my free 54-page employee satisfaction survey guide here) segment their data based on the responses received and then divide work groups by levels of engagement. It is very important to action plan and communicate based on these frames. For example, people who are loyal and engaged in the organization are typically concerned about very different issues than employees who are “checked out” and disengaged. Often the best strategy is to focus efforts on the groups who are neither engaged or disengaged if you want to really move the needle on employee engagement overall. As you plan your engagement strategy – and especially as you map out your Employee Free Choice Act communications – keep these frames in mind. You should think about how you might alter your basic message and your delivery platform based on the relative engagement of these different groups. In addition, remember that union organizers will focus on your most disengaged groups. While the high-leverage employee engagement strategy is to focus on those who are “on the fence,” you should also think about how organizers might go after the least engaged of your workers. As I always say the very best “union avoidance” strategy is not really a union avoidance strategy at all – just create a great place to work and unions (not to mention your competitors) won’t have a chance.


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