Baby Boomers to Gen Z: What to Know About Employee Disengagement Across Generations in the Workplace

By: Christina Zurek
baby boomers and gen z working together


There are roughly four generations employed in the workforce today—baby boomers, Generation X, millennials and Generation Z. Engaging each generation of employees is not an easy task. And it’s true each generation may have differences when it comes to desires and motivations. But too many organizations are ignoring the traits that are shared across all generations.

The desire for more inclusive cultures, greater flexibility, benefits that support their lives outside of work and a more personalized workplace experience are just some of the traits all generations share. Taking time to understand the similarities will help in creating an environment that is engaging for all. If you don’t, it’s not just millennials who will be looking elsewhere for more engaged and collaborative work environment.

Engagement Drops During Critical 1–2 Years of Tenure

Employees with 1–2 years of tenure are particularly at risk to disengage, based on research conducted by CMB. While this alone might not ring any alarms—employees earlier in tenure often see higher turnover—the really interesting thing to note is that this disengagement is consistent across all generations.

That’s right: employee disengagement affects all generations the same in the workforce.


A graph showing employee engagement over the years of employment

The ground-breaking CMB research study—which leveraged social psychology and advanced analytics to evaluate drivers of employee engagement and motivation—surveyed nearly 1,500 full-time workers at U.S.-based corporations throughout a variety of industries. The research found that there are three types of psychological benefits that are key to driving employee engagement:

  • Functional benefits, or things a person wants to accomplish or do
  • Emotional benefits, the way that people want to feel
  • Identity benefits, or the way a person wants to be

Interestingly, generational similarities were especially evident in the personal identity psychological benefit—the most significant driver of engagement.

In comparison to other profile cuts (like job level and whether individuals were in client-facing or management roles) there was relatively little variance between each generation in terms of self-esteem, or how much they agree that working at the company makes them feel good about themselves.

This validates the idea that the psychological benefit of personal identity is largely impacted by the role a person plays within the larger organization rather than traditional demographics.

The impact of generational differences in the workforce is one of today’s most popular topics, but this research calls in to question how much generation actually impacts employee engagement. Sure, there are some age-driven differences in terms of what employees need at various stages of the employee journey—employees over the age of 50 obviously care more about retirement—but research shows more similarity than dissimilarity across generations. As a result, organizations need to support all employees regardless of generation or life stage during the critical 1–2-year tenure range.

Here are four ideas to help improve employee engagement during this critical time that apply regardless of generation.

1. Talk Less and Ask Questions

Actively listen to what employees say and avoid interrupting or becoming defensive—it takes courage to share feedback. And remember to thank the person for providing their opinions. By asking more questions and actively listening to their responses, you can find and understand the high and low points employees are experiencing so that you can focus on improving where you have gaps.

Stay interviews can be a great way to show individualized attention to this as you proactively gather feedback regarding what they like and dislike about their experience. But gathering groups for a roundtable discussion in a psychologically safe space also works to encourage a more collaborative exchange.

Targeted communication initiatives also can enable managers and HR professionals to stay on top of employee engagement issues, get constant feedback from employees and anticipate changing needs of workforce groups.

You can’t bow to every request, but when you do act on employee suggestions, make sure they get to see the changes first hand.

2. Onboarding is Ongoing—Avoid a Drop Off in Support

According to one study, 69% of employees are more likely to stay with a company for three years if they experienced great onboarding. And new employees who went through a structured onboarding program were 58% more likely to be with the organization after three years

And yet, according to ADP, managers spend approximately seven days onboarding a new hire. So—is this enough time? Not even close. A short onboarding process can overload newly-hired employees with information. It can also leave new hires scratching their heads on why their support, interaction and connection with this company suddenly dropped off.

By extending your onboarding process to be a years-long evaluation it can better assess performance, showing you where new hires fall in the training program and what you need to do to ensure success. Not everyone learns the same, and you can alter your approach based on an employee's input.

Related: Download our white paper about the unintended consequences from onboarding.

3. Help Create Connections Between People

Workplace loneliness is real and a challenge for many companies. While you can’t force your employees to be friends, you can set up an environment that encourages employees to connect. Employee resource groups, interest clubs, coffee or lunch meet-ups, networking groups, mentorships, volunteer opportunities or company celebrations are just a few ways you can help foster connections among team members.

And the benefits are staggering: connection is so important, in fact, that its impact on your employees is greater than a boost in salary. Studies show that if you have a friend that you see on most days (especially at work), it’s like earning $100,000 more each year.

When employees have strong relationships in the workplace, you’re more likely to see collaboration and camaraderie occur. Employees are more likely to feel a stronger sense of loyalty to their company and each other, and perceive more psychological value in their daily work.

4. Be Proactive in Helping Employees Professionally

More than one in four U.S. employees—roughly 42 million workers—will leave their jobs this year to go work for another company, according to the recently released 2018 Retention Report: Truth and Trends in Turnover.

And while changing jobs every few years has become the norm for some, it doesn’t have to mean that your employees leave your organization. If you focus on training, developing and building career paths for the people working for you today, you can build and improve loyalty to your company.

Every company has top performers they want to keep. The best way to do so is to provide them with plenty of opportunities to learn and grow. That means keeping them appraised of internal opportunities as well as any development plans you have in mind for them.

When companies don’t develop their workers and don’t hire internally, it sends a message to employees.

Explicitly or implicitly, when you deny or discourage employees the opportunity to apply their skills in a different part of the company, you’re more likely to see them jump ship altogether.

Want to learn more about this recent groundbreaking employee engagement study? Take a deep dive into the psychology of engagement with CMB’s research report, Delivering the Psychological Benefits That Drive Employee Loyalty.


Christina Zurek
Christina Zurek

Christina is an experienced leader with a passion for improving the employee experience, employee engagement and workplace culture. Few things excite her as much as an opportunity to try something unfamiliar (be that a project, development opportunity, travel destination, food, drink or otherwise), though digging in to a research project is a close second.