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Three employee demographics you need to understand, and engage, to be successful

Tips of the trade for engaging and retaining under 30-year-olds, mid-career and baby boomer employees

Jan 3, 2013

by Max Fawcett

The Junior Employee

Age Range: Under 30
Biggest Concern (for the employer): Turnover
Biggest Concern (for the employee): Mentorship and Meaning
Best Incentive: A sense of purpose (and a kick-ass workplace)

The Millennial: two words that strike fear, or at the very least a sense of confusion, in the heart of HR managers everywhere. What do they want? Why are they so impatient? And what, if anything, can be done about their addiction to social media?

Ted Kouri certainly has a few opinions on the subject given that more than three-quarters of his staff are members of that generation. His most important piece of advice: Culture matters. “What we hear every single time, no matter what mechanism we use, is that workplace culture and environment is number one for that group,” he says. “More tangible things like salary and vacation matter, but they don’t matter as much.”

Another thing that matters to younger employees is the opportunity for professional growth – something that can be a problem for the companies that employ them. Kouri says people used to expect to change jobs or positions every three to five years. Now they can get restless in as little as 12 months. “The challenge, when you’re a small business like we are, is that when you get young, bright and ambitious people, it’s often hard to grow fast enough to keep them satisfied with the amount of change that they like.”

Key Tip: Millennials want to like where they work, so give them a few reasons to feel that way.

The Mid-Career Manager

Age Range: 30 to 49
Biggest Concern (for the employer): Burnout
Biggest Concern (for the employee): Personal Development
Best Incentive: Flexibility

Generation X just can’t seem to catch a break. First, they were squeezed out by the baby boomers, and now, in what should be the primes of their professional careers, they’re getting overlooked by employers more concerned with catering to technology-addled millennials. “I think we spend a lot of time focusing on all these people who are going to retire and all these people who are coming in that we don’t understand,” Ross-Graham says, “but there’s this whole group that does a lot of the heavy lifting that we don’t talk about enough.”

Marcie Chisholm, Epcor’s director of HR and talent management, understands how important these people are to her company’s success. What they value most, she says, is an opportunity to grow and a clear path to personal development. For Epcor, that means developing its own school of business, one that allows employees to acquire new skills and meet co-workers. “It’s one of the things that they really value, those opportunities to continually refresh their skills,” she says. “And it strengthens their relationships inside and outside of their normal workgroup. It makes our whole team better.”

And while not every business can create their own school of business or offer up the same bevy of benefits that Epcor does, they can still learn from the core values that inform them: a commitment to flexibility, and a willingness to tailor programs and benefits to the employees. According to Ross-Graham, that’s something that every business can incorporate into their policies and practices. “We’ve gotten into this place where we treat everyone the same, and we forget that everyone isn’t the same,” she says. “You have to be fair, but you don’t have to be unbending about it.”

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Key Tip: A one-size-fits-all HR policy almost always ends up in tears.

The Senior Executive

Age Range: Over 50
Biggest Concern (for the employer): Loss of Skills
Biggest Concern (for the employee): Leaving a Legacy
Best Incentive: Respect

You know how you’re always told to back up your important data on your computer – you do remember to do that, don’t you? Well, it’s time you started backing up your key senior employees, too. “Very few organizations document any of that stuff,” Ross-Graham says. “They rely on them as mentors and leaders, but they haven’t documented that knowledge anywhere.”

The good news is that, unlike your cranky computer, your senior employees will actually enjoy the process .” One of the things that’s really important for people who are getting ready to retire is that they transfer that on to the next generation so it isn’t lost,” Epcor’s Chisholm says. “That can be very engaging for people who’ve spent all of this time learning a skill or learning a system – to be able to pass that along to the next generation, and share their mistakes and their lessons learned.”

Ross-Graham says companies – the smart ones, anyways – are waking up to the sheer volume of expertise and knowledge that’s on the verge of walking out their door, and are making the necessary preparations. One company, for example, is planning ahead six years to wind out one of its senior executives and bring someone in as a replacement. “They’re not freaking out,” she says. “They’re taking their time to get the right person.” That’s something that everyone – the outgoing employee, their incoming replacement and the company itself – benefits from.

Key Tip: Take an inventory of your key senior personnel, and map out a long-term plan for their departure.

Why people really are your company’s most important asset

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