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The workplace generation gap has been overhyped

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in Employee Benefits Program,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Driven boomers and Gen X slackers. Xbox millennials and the Greatest Generation. It’s common knowledge that different generations bring different levels of commitment to work. Turns out, common knowledge is wrong.

Contrary to much that has been written about the differences between generations regarding their attitudes toward work and their engagement in their jobs, the variations are actually relatively small, according to new research.

“With the exception of employees age 63 and older, the differences between employees’ levels of engagement in their jobs are fairly narrow,” said Douglas Klein, president of Sirota Survey Intelligence, an attitude research firm.

“Our research dispels the myths about younger employees being more disengaged from their jobs. It also refutes the contention that Generation X employees (ages 28-42) are the most cynical of age groups,” added Klein.

Sirota conducted a major study of cross-generational attitudes of more than 300,000 workers in over 50 organizations.

The study encompassed four generational groups:

  • Generation Y: ages 27 and younger
  • Generation X: ages 28-42
  • Baby boomers: ages 43-62
  • Traditionalists: ages 63 and older.

Engagement levels

The research asked about employees’ overall satisfaction with their jobs, pride in working for their employers, whether they would recommend their organizations as a place to work, and their willingness to put forth extra effort. Their responses collectively comprised an “index of employee engagement.”

Employees of the Traditionalist generation (ages 63 and older) were the most engaged in their jobs overall, with an 84% employee engagement level. The engagement levels of the other groups fell within a relatively narrow range of 77%-80%, according to the study.

Levels of employee engagement by generation, according to the study, are:

  • Traditionalists: 84% engagement level
  • Generation Y: 80%
  • Generation X: 78%
  • Baby boomers: 77%.

Time on the job

Job tenure was a strong factor in determining levels of engagement. Traditionalists (whether newly hired or long-tenured) were more favorably engaged than any other generation at any point in their measured tenure.

Overall employee engagement levels according to tenure are:

  • One year or less tenure: 83% employee engagement level
  • 1-2 years: 79% employee engagement level
  • 2-5 years: 75% employee engagement level
  • 6-10 years: 76% employee engagement level
  • 10 or more years: 79% employee engagement level.

Although an overwhelming majority of new employees are enthusiastic when starting a job, there is a measurable decline in their morale after the first year—and often after the first six months. That pattern continues through the fifth year. 

“Many new employees begin losing their enthusiasm for their new jobs regardless of how old they are,” said Klein. “Employees’ continued or maintained level of engagement depends on how well management meets their needs and expectations during their time with their employers.”

Employees’ engagement level typically begins to recover after they have been with their employers for six years or more. 

The age advantage

Klein noted that traditionalists (age 63 and older) may be an overlooked resource for employers. “They consistently have higher employee engagement levels than other employees with comparable tenure.”

For example, Traditionalists with between two and five years of tenure have an engagement level of 85%—10% higher than that for Generation Y and boomers (75%), and 9% higher than Generation X (76%).

Find full research results at www.sirota.com.

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