People First HR Services

Multi-generational workplace a reality

Colleen Coates

A multi-generational workforce is not only a reflection of rapidly-changing demographics in today’s society, it is a reality that needs to be integrated into an organization’s recruitment strategy.

Generations of workers typically fall into four categories: traditionalists (born between 1922-45), baby boomers (1946-64), generation X (1965-80) and generation Y (also called millennials, born 1981-99). Because each group has its own markedly different values and expectations, it can be a challenge to attract and recruit one group while ensuring that the other groups’ workplace needs are being met in order to engage and retain them.

The generational differences among the groups are a significant benefit to any organization. Listening to and understanding the needs of each group can provide employers with valuable information that will give them a head start in developing future recruitment and retention strategies.

Employers with a meaningful understanding of the multi-generational mix in their workforce have a greater competitive advantage when it comes to recruiting, and with that comes the assurance of an influx of talented employees of all ages and capabilities. Culling this information is something that should be done on an ongoing basis. Talk to your employees — ask what makes them stay and find out the real reasons why others have chosen to leave. It’s important to learn what people like and don’t like about working for you, not only to strengthen your retention strategy, but to get more insight into how to attract the top quality talent you are looking for.

Gaining a better understanding of each of the four generational groups and the unique strengths and skills they bring to the organization will help employers to:

— Create and market specific recruitment strategies.

— Develop retention tools that bring out the value of each generation.

— Implement strategies to create a workplace culture that ensures highly engaged employees.

— Lessen any workplace conflicts that arise due to the differences in employees’ values, attitudes and expectations when it comes to work, authority, career paths and work/life balance.

Regardless of the age group, leadership is critical to workers’ engagement levels. Strong leadership helps secure loyalty and the employee’s desire to stay with the company. Employers can deal with the challenges of several generational sects by providing ongoing training opportunities to employees and by ensuring that future leaders are being effectively developed to lead individuals in all four groups.

Of course, that point may be putting the cart before the horse — before employees can be retained, they need to be recruited.

When it comes to attracting a wide section of new employees from across the generations, there are a number of strategies that are effective. You can recruit from within, implement an employee referral program, and talk to customers and suppliers and others within your professional networks. But perhaps, most importantly, your organization has to be widely regarded and marketed as a great place to work.

According to Hewitt’s Best Employers Study, the five common characteristics of Canada’s best employers are: inspired leadership; unique company culture; focus on growing talent; strong sense of accountability; and aligned HR practices and excellent execution.

To help market these excellent qualities to all four demographic segments of the working population, it may be worthwhile to consider working with a professional recruiter as part of your strategy for attracting new employees. In addition to freeing up the organization’s time and resources when it comes to the recruitment process, they have the expertise required to match the needs and the wants of the employer and the potential employee.

As the saying goes, age is relative. It is not nearly as important to focus on specific birthdates as it is to concentrate on what you can do to appreciate distinct generational differences and leverage the multi-generational workforce you employ today as well as in the future.

— With reporting by Barbara Chabai

Colleen Coates, CHRP, CCP, is a practice leader with People First HR Services Ltd. She can be contacted at


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 2, 2011 H1