Communicating and inspiring trust in a workplace is a difficult task, especially when employers need to speak multiple different languages, all in English. In other words, what a male baby boomer needs to feel valued and engaged at work can be vastly different from what inspires a female millennial. Four generations, not to mention the two genders, of employees in the workplace are motivated differently and incentivized in varying ways. One thing they all have in common, though, is straying loyalty.

According to a Deloitte Talent Edge 2020 survey, only 35% of employees plan to remain with their current employer, a 10 percentage point decrease from a similar survey conducted in September 2009. Nearly two out of three employees (65%) surveyed are passively or actively looking elsewhere.

"There are a lot of people out there with a wandering eye," says Jay Meschke, president of EFL Associates, a CBIZ company.

Overall, when the 356 employees at large, global companies were asked by Deloitte to rank the top factors that would lead them to seek new employment, "lack of career progress" was No. 1, at 26%. "Lack of compensation increases," "lack of job security," and "lack of trust in leadership," followed, each at 24%.

When asked what would make them stay, employees said the top three retention incentives were "promotion/job advancement" (53%), "additional compensation" (39%), and "additional bonuses or other financial incentives" (34%).

Unfortunately, this wish list may be hard to come by for some companies who barely managed to scrape through the recession. Instead, experts say that by addressing the reasons they would leave, employers can find nonfinancial ways to retain their employees.

Robin Erickson, Ph.D, manager at Deloitte Consulting LLP, recommends employers create leadership opportunities for employees, as well as show appreciation. In fact, according to the Deloitte study, 30% of employees cited support and recognition from managers as an effective retention tactic.

Erickson also stresses the importance of trust. Employers can reduce uncertainty about company strategy and financial health through clear and continuous communication.

"You need a lot more communication than ever before, almost a constant barrage of communication, to make sure people are on the same wavelength and that you are communicating with the parties in a way they are familiar and comfortable with," says Meschke.

Other nongenerational incentives Meschke considers include title enhancement, though some experts warn this tactic could have legal consequences, a sales or other conference with their spouse as a reward for a job well-done, or team-building excursions. Outward-bound programs also promote a sense of loyalty, he adds.

Employers should remember, however, that what motivates a particular person, demographic or generation greatly depends on the industry and company, says Mark Atkinson, director in PwC's people & change practice.

Still, with hypersegmentation, an employer "can target very specific groups in the organization with very different strategies to engage them. It's not about spending money, it's about allocating it," explains Atkinson.

My generation

Baby boomers feel betrayed coming out of the recession, affirms Erickson, noting that 51% of those employees surveyed by Deloitte say that morale at their companies has dropped over the past year, less than half (47%) believe their companies successfully communicate corporate strategy, and 41% labeled their company's ability to establish trust and confidence in leadership as poor.

Boomers are more oriented toward achievement and loyalty than other generations in the workplace, are comfortable with a hierarchal view in work organization and see their progression as ladder-oriented, says Atkinson. Unfortunately, in the period following the recession, they feel their loyalty has been taken for granted and expressed the strongest discontent with their employers in the Deloitte survey, as baby boomers cited "lack of trust in leadership" as the top-ranked turnover trigger (32%).

In terms of retention, more than four in 10 baby boomers (43%) wanted greater support and recognition from managers and supervisors, marking a shift from the 2009 survey, where a large share of boomers wanted "additional financial incentives" (40%) and "addition compensation" (36%).

Meschke believes that despite the shift in the data, baby boomers remain mainly inspired by monetary rewards; they are so experienced that not a lot of things motivate them anymore, he says. Therefore, an organization could have concrete incentive plans tied to increasing revenues, earnings, or metrics that would be worth a set amount of dollars or incentive payouts for current income and deferred income.

There's been an uptick in deferred compensation plans tied to incentives, and "I think this is one way to retain" older employees, because they could lose their deferred compensation if they don't stay at the company for a certain amount of time, says Meschke.

On the other hand, "the younger generations tend to want a lot of affirmation," he says. They need more feedback more often than boomers. Younger workers also have a greater need to feel appreciated, but clearly, as seen in the Deloitte survey, the older generation is having twinges that their hard work is going unnoticed as well.

Thus, Meschke recommends employers provide development opportunities to instill in employees a sense of trust, affirmation and even a little guilt that their employer is investing in them - and therefore, a feeling of wanting to repay the goodwill.

Invoking such a feeling may help keep younger employees around, since they are the most ready and willing to move, Deloitte finds, as 45% of Gen Xers are actively looking for new employment, and only 28% plan to stay with current employer. Frustration over "lack of career progress" was the No. 1 exit driver for Generation X, at 38%.

Instead of promoting younger employees in traditional ways, Erickson suggests providing additional opportunities to grow, such as giving them responsibilities in other areas, offering a transfer to another city or an international assignment.

"Sometimes there are lateral moves that could be interesting to an employee," she says. They're not being promoted, but clearly the company takes an interest in the employee. "Gen X is bumping up against a 'grey ceiling,' not being able to be promoted as the baby boomers aren't retiring as soon as we thought they would."

It's a problem that's not going away, as nearly half (48%) of baby boomers in the Deloitte survey believe they will work past age 65, and 13% predict they will work past 70.

Erickson recommends employers map out career plans, so employees understand how the organization sees them in terms of their career path. "These are tangible things organizations can do, but that don't necessarily cost money," she says.

Ultimately, management needs to develop leadership management skills, which is true across gender and generation, says Edward Barton, president of talent optimization at CareerCurve.

He recommends balancing older and younger generations on key projects and integrating them on key task forces. "Put cross-generational members on the team so that some of the older workers can be mentors of the younger ones, and likewise using the younger ones, who almost always have better technological skills, to mentor the older generation."

"When that happens they really feel empowered," Barton continues. "They're highly motivated and in those scenarios, I wouldn't be worried about them running away."

How to retain Dick and Jane

Just as generational divides can offer retention clues for employers, gender differences can allow employers to tailor retention efforts as well.

In the Deloitte survey, women seemed more likely than men to be actively looking for new employment in the next 12 months (55% of women vs. 41% of men).

Men rated "lack of compensation increases" at the top of their exit-driver list at 27% (compared to 14% of women), while women ranked "excessive workload" first at 31% (compared to 15% of men).

In terms of retention, 42% of men said "additional compensation" would keep them from leaving, and 39% cited "additional bonuses or other financial incentives." Among women, 40% of women said "support and recognition from supervisors or managers" would drive them to stay with their employer.

Just because women didn't put financial incentives as high up their list as men, doesn't mean they shouldn't be fairly compensated and rewarded, experts warn. Rather, it means that in addition to bonuses, employers should focus on softer incentives, not just financial incentives.

The desire for flex time among women is more pronounced than men, says Atkinson, which means introducing job sharing or telecommuting to help alleviate stress and balance their work and home life.

"If you want to keep [women] during certain ages and stages, you'll need to provide them with flexibility that men won't necessarily be looking for," he says. An employer would offer the flexible perks to everyone, but women mostly take advantage of them. 

Finally, employers can also foster affinity groups to encourage loyalty and self-growth. For women in management, for example, a female development program led by women may be a good network of mentors for the female population and can be applied to any group.

Register or login for access to this item and much more

All Employee Benefit News becomes archived within a week of it being published

Community members receive:
  • All recent and archived articles
  • Conference offers and updates
  • A full menu of enewsletter options
  • Web seminars, white papers, ebooks

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access