Employee engagement – understanding your workforce

Welcome to the second blog in our employee engagement series. If you missed our first article, covering employee engagement definitions and strategies, and would like to catch up you can access it here. In this blog we’re taking a closer look at understanding the make-up of your workforce, engaging hard-to-reach employees and what different groups of your workforce might need to help them engage.

The make-up of your workforce

As the saying goes, ‘seek first to understand and then to be understood’. In the case of employee engagement this is key – understanding as much as you can about your workforce will help you provide the right communication, in the right tone, to the right employees, through the right channels at the right time.

You will already have some data on your workforce: the total employee count and probably a split by department and seniority, maybe the number of people in office-based roles vs those in the field or in shop floor roles, and perhaps some diversity statistics like gender splits. Start by pulling this data together and dig deep to gather up as much insight as you possibly can . Work with your HR department to see what additional information you might be able to get, even if it’s anonymised, for example, the age and ethnic diversity of your workforce.

Once you have a good idea of who your workforce is, consider their needs – this may come down to more listening groups.

Five generations in a single workforce

One challenge you’re likely to experience is a range of generations in the workforce. Over the last few years many workforces have started to see five generations in the same workforce and Covid lockdowns have magnified some of the challenges (and opportunities) this brings. For example the youngest generations in the workforce crave the life experience and natural ability to navigate stakeholder relationships that the older generations have in bucket loads, whilst the older generations crave the ease and comfort young digital natives have in adapting to new technology. Here’s a lowdown on some of the age groups you may have in your workforce:

Generation Z (born 1997–2012, currently employees in their late teens to early 20s)

A generation of digital natives who expect high levels of technology and maximum choice to tune in and out at they please.

But there’s more to them that just social media, they’re looking for meaning in their lives and want to be engaged in the organisation’s wider purpose. Topics like diversity and sustainability are important to them and they’ll want to see their employers stepping up. Their health and wellbeing is also of high importance to them, they’ll demand flexibility in the way they work.

From a retention point of view they’re likely to become career multitaskers, taking advantage of the gig economy at points, but they also seek our stability in an uncertain world, so for organisations who engage them well, they’ll be loyal and committed.

Millennials (born 1981–1996, currently mid to late 20’s to late 30s)

Happier to text or message colleagues rather than talk, this generation have enjoyed the benefits of technology as it’s developed during their lifetimes. They are savvy with technology and see it as an efficient way to get things done so love bypassing traditional methods to speed mundane tasks up.

One part of this generation’s DNA is transparency and cynicism – growing up with the introduction of online reviews, they like, and perhaps demand, honesty. Like other generations though they seek meaning and purpose and want to make an impact in their organisation.

Generations X (born 1965–1980, currently in their 40s and 50s)

This generation is often self-reliant, well-educated and hard-working, generally happy to seamlessly switch between technology and face-to-face interaction (remember they knew a life pre-computers and social media).

They’re loyal to their profession and passionate about their work ethic but seek that critical work/life balance.

Baby boomers (born 1946–1964, currently mid 50s to preparing for retirement)

Known for having a hard working ethic they value job security and stability. From a technology perspective they still value face-to-face interaction, sometimes struggling to adapt to fast-paced changing technology.

Boomers like to be treated with fairness and respect. Being appreciated by management is likely to be high on their agenda.

Traditionalists (born 1928–1945, previously seen as beyond retirement, however many remaining in the workplace as health improves – just take Joe Biden as an example!)

If you have any of this generation in your workplace it’s because they’re hard workers with strong values and a passion for their work. They have heaps of experience and like to be valued for their knowledge and skills. They’re likely to be winding down and will need flexible working hours.

Whatever the make-up of your workforce is, understanding them will help you develop strategies that will work for your organisation specifically. Our next blog will look at how to keep engagement up all year round. Get in touch with us to make sure you don’t miss the rest of this series.