New generations – New roles – New employee retention strategies

There have always been generation gaps in the workplace. Yet businesses seem to be more and more concerned about gen Y entering the labor market and changing the rules of the game. The biggest challenge they face: employee retention.

How can they engage and retain these digital natives?

New generations

Every generation comes with its own set of rules. Although the main employee engagement drivers transcend generations, there are significant differences between how Baby Boomers feel about the workplace, as opposed to gen Y or even Gen Z.

In a recent study, Ernst and Young identified the main dissimilarities between the current active generations. Take a look:


o    Boomers scored high in being a productive part of organizations (69%), “hardworking” (73%, the highest), a “team player” (56%), and nurturing and essential for others’ development (55%).

o    While members of the boomer generation were strong performers in most areas, they were not viewed as the “best” generation in areas such as being adaptable (10%); collaborative (20%); social media opportunists (6%); and “brand ambassadors,” or leveraging various channels (e.g., social media platforms, speaking engagements) to build an emotional connection and engagement with a brand (16%).

o    Boomers are considered the least “tech savvy” (27%) of the three generations, and this attribute had the widest disparity among generations (a 58% gap between boomers and Gen Y).

Gen X

o    Compared with other generations, members of Gen X achieved the top scores in being considered a “productive part of my organization” (73%), a “team player” (65%) and “nurturing and essential for development opportunities” (56%).

o    In addition, when asked which generation is the “best” at displaying select positive characteristics, respondents cited members of Gen X most frequently in seven out of 11 attributes. Examples include being a “revenue generator” (58%) and “relationship builder” (53%), as well as possessing traits of “adaptability” (49%), “problem-solving” (57%) and “collaboration” (53%). However, members of Gen X lag behind boomers in being perceived as “best” at displaying executive presence (28% vs. 66%) and being cost effective (34% vs. 59%).

o    They were least likely to be considered “difficult to work with” (16%) or “cynical and condescending” (29%).

Gen Y

o    Members of Gen Y were viewed as the “best” at being “tech savvy” (78%) and being social media opportunists, or leveraging social media beyond marketing (70%) – the two largest endorsements any generation received. Gen Y also scored higher than boomers for being the “best” at “collaboration” (27% vs. 20%), “adaptability” (41% vs. 10%) and being “entrepreneurial” (29% vs. 15%).

o    Support for Gen Y to manage in 2020 nearly doubles, according to survey respondents, but this generation needs to improve several characteristics to get there. Members of Gen Y scored high marks for being “enthusiastic” (68% agree) but had lower scores than other generations for being perceived as a “team player” (45%), “hardworking” (39%) and “a productive part of my organization” (58%).

o    They also scored highest in three out of four negative traits in the survey, such as being perceived as “difficult to work with” (36%), “entitled” (68%) and “lacking relevant experience” (59%). Yet it’s interesting to note that members of every generation view their own generation as entitled to a degree, including 60% Gen Y, 49% Gen X and 27% boomers.

In the past few years, it has become abundantly clear for HR managers that they need to re-think their employee retention strategies, in order to keep up with these significant changes that gen Y employees bring.

Finding out what motivates these new employees and how to best leverage their positive attributes is key to designing an efficient HR game plan.

New roles

Speaking of the gen Y revolution, these new professionals exert their preference for freedom and flexibility in a number of ways, one of which is creating new roles. If a gen Y feels like they have a certain purpose and they want to follow their path in a specific direction, they will undoubtedly create it, if it doesn’t already exist.

Key findings from KPMG’s Center of Excellence Survey reveal that younger skilled workers seem less interested in traditional roles and see themselves as free agents. They may not all be entrepreneurs but they are best described by an entrepreneurial outlook on workplaces and job roles.

This could be a great thing for any company, if they handle it properly. You have a new, inquisitive mind coming to challenge the way things have been done and suggest new, more efficient ways to proceed. They have their own ideas, they create their new role and they’re prepared to dive right in, full of enthusiasm and the desire to learn. Instead of seeing them as entitled or narcissistic, a smart manager will grow these new employees and benefit from their unprecedented creativity and boldness.

On the other hand, this tendency poses a significant problem, not only in terms of employee retention rate, but for HR planning processes in general. How do you know what your needs and capabilities will be 6 months from now if you’re creating unplanned roles and responsibilities?  And if you don’t create these new roles, how will you motivate and retain your newly acquired talent?

New employee retention strategies

Everything requires a balance. The new generation is bold, intuitive and full of initiative, but that makes them somewhat hard to engage and retain in the long run.

Here are some recommendations to help you develop the right employee retention strategies, addressing the new workplace and the newer generations:

Find out what the critical engagement driver in your company is.

Generalization is rarely a good foundation for any strategy. Engagement and retention work differently from company to company, from industry to industry. That’s why it’s imperative that you know how your company functions: what are your key engagement drivers, how do they manifest and how can you leverage them to improve retention?

A qualitative analysis will require time and focus. Your most efficient option is using an automated system that can track employee engagement and provide you with key analytics to base your strategy on. Find out how your team feels, what drives them every day and how they would like to see their workplace improved.

Once you know what your critical engagement driver is, build your employee retention strategy by focusing on that key aspect.

Enlist and empower managers in talent management, don’t just leave it to HR.

Transparency and collaborative leadership are the new governing laws for managers. As businesses become more and more agile, it’s unreasonable to expect the successful delivery of an employee engagement strategy implemented exclusively by the HR department.

It’s managers who work with employees every day, it’s managers who impact  the top 3 engagement drivers and it’s managers who usually have the biggest control on turnover rates in a company. Therefore, their involvement in delivering an employee retention strategy is quintessential.

Include managers in your HR strategy, monitor their involvement in engaging employees and make sure that they have the desired influence on key retention drivers.

Commit to valuing employees.

Engaged workplaces display a commitment to employees, in how they are supported, recognized, and developed, and that translates into a high retention rate.

Constantly ask for feedback, encourage suggestions and listen to what your employees have to say. They may be keen on making their ideas heard or they may need to be encouraged to share them. Either way, requesting and valuing their opinion should be a cornerstone for any retention strategy. Remember, employee loyalty is not a given, it has to be earned.

Also, take a look at these 13 practical takeaways from 5 case studies on employee retention and see which strategy resonates best with your company, maybe you’ll get inspired.


The best retention strategy is the one that fits your company. Designing it means taking into consideration all of these new essential changes in generations, roles, structures and workplace realities.

In order to truly understand how to retain your employees, start by finding out what keeps they engaged. What made them choose you, work with you, deliver performance and be part of your culture?

Image credit: Virtueel Platform under C.C.2.0