Influencing Multiple Generations to Create an Engaged Workforce

A New Column by Julie Ann Sullivan

By Julie Ann Sullivan July 2016 Issue

Is it important to you that your business be more productive and profitable? Do you wonder why people can’t just get along better and complete a joint project with creativity and respect? Would you like to live in a workplace environment where there is less stress for you and your workforce?
If you answered yes to any of those questions, then read on. If not, you might be in serious denial. If you’re a business owner or an employee of an organization, I’ll bet your answer is yes to all three. In this series of articles, you’ll learn the strategic importance of simple solutions that create big results. Having an engaged, productive, creative and appreciative workplace doesn’t have to be difficult. However, to accomplish that goal, one must be willing to create greater self-awareness and do some work.
In 2013, Gallup created a report called, The State of the American Workplace. I love research and the validity of this report comes from over ten years of research and 25 thousand responses. Here’s what they found:
• 18 % of employees were disengaged.
• 52 % of employees were not engaged
• 30 % employees were engaged
As the years have passed since the original report, the percentages have changed very little. It is becoming more apparent every day that to have a competitive edge in business we must engage our workforce. The truth is, there is just not enough qualified workers out there. In Pittsburgh alone, my home town, a new study, Supply, Demand and the Future of Work in the Pittsburgh Region, shows that we will have a shortfall of almost 200,000 qualified workers in the next 10 years. Research continues to highlight the importance of a twofold approach to a quality workforce. This includes formal education and the emotional IQ to succeed.
Let’s take a closer look at the numbers. The 18% of employees that are disengaged, I named TOXIC. You’ve experienced them. They walk around the office and look for allies to agree with their assessment that, “This place sucks!” If they don’t find solace and/or agreement in one colleague, they spend more time traveling around the office until they do. It’s the old adage, “Misery loves company.” One thing is for sure. They are not being productive and they are sabotaging other people’s work productivity and creativity as well. If you’re management, the sooner you identify these people the better for the entire working environment. Identify, communicate then create a change. Sometimes these toxic folks are salvageable and sometimes not. It happens, sometimes a life crisis will be the issue, or perhaps they came into a position they are not a good fit for, or the company itself is not giving them the training and the skills necessary to do a good job. It’s not always that they have a bad attitude. Unfortunately, many businesses do not spend the resources on good training. This creates unhappy workers, poor work product, lost time and stress for all involved.
If this toxic individual is your colleague, there are specific skills to communicate in an empathetic way that allows you to continue the work you want to do well. Better yet, learn how to communicate the more positive side of life. Nothing repels toxic folk more than a happy person. I’ll examine this in more detail when we talk about the importance of communication in a future article.

Next we have the 52% of employees that are not engaged. I have named them DRONES. They come to work, they do what theyoriginal need to and then they go home. They are not innovators. They don’t think outside the box very well. Their creativity is simple, not complex. They don’t have ideas for betterment in work processes or the company at large. They are also the biggest pool of employees to more easily move into the “engaged” category. Many of them are looking for the smallest change to get them excited about what they do and their sense of feeling valued. According to Tiny Pulse Employee Engagement & Organizational Culture Report, only 21% of employees feel strongly valued at work, which leaves 79% who feel only marginally valued or not valued at all. I have a theory that there are two distinct important aspects of a human beings existence that crave to be bolstered. People want to be acknowledged and they want to know they have value. Without it, their enthusiasm for life, work and community are diminished. In future articles I’ll share specific actions and ideas you can take to create a culture where employees feel like they matter.

Almost a third of the workforce are fully engaged. They belong to the “I own it” community. They have a stake in the present and future of the company they work for. It doesn’t come from stock ownership, it comes from their own ability and the atmosphere in the workplace where they feel like they make a difference. They’re aware of their purpose at work, but more importantly, the purpose of their work. (More on that differentiation later.) These people believe their ideas are listened to. Not necessarily always agreed with, but not ignored or written off as preposterous. This group is important too because they are the major influencers of the unengaged and disengaged to join their “community”. They can be the best ambassadors to reveal the strengths of the company and the leaders that dwell in the C-Suite. Naturally, the culture of the organization has to be one that encourages engagement. The men and women in the C-Suite have to be shining examples and innovative leaders of what the company’s mission and vision is. Even the mission and vision statements have to be inclusionary and discerning. For it to be possible to have a third of your workforce fully engaged and growing, all aspects of the company must be in line with that mindset. It may sound impossible, but it’s not. It may sound difficult and complex, but it doesn’t have to be. I am a big believer in simple solutions create big results and you should be too. Consistency is more important than complexity and I will show you how.

First, let me ask you a question. Are you sick and tired of hearing about the differences in the generations? Whenever I have posed this question at an event, nearly everyone raises their hand. Are you constantly reading articles about how millennials and boomers can never get along? Is this a topic of discussion in your workplace? I’m beginning to think this is a marketing ploy started by a group of men and women to sell you new products, books, trainings and software to track the differences and teach a different set of skills to different age groups. I have a different take on this challenge.
The reason we have such a difference between generations is because of information. Eric Schmidt, ex CEO of Google and current Executive Chairman of Alphabet, Inc., stated that, “Every two days now we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003.” That statement was made in 2010, who knows what means now. All this information makes for increased innovation and though processes. That is not going to end. Each generation going forward is going to have increased information and innovation, at a faster pace than the previous generation. The next generation will surely have self-driving cars and make dinner before they ever get there. If we focus on their differences, we are forever creating a self-fulfilling prophecy of people in the workforce, and the world for that matter, not getting along. I have a different solution.
What if we took a look at everyone’s commonalities? What if company leaders taught their working community skills that increased the success in a person’s whole life, no matter what age they were. The notion that people leave their personal lives at home is gone. Our lives are forever entwined personally and professionally. Therefore, if you influence change in behavior that affects a person at work with skills they can utilize in their personal life, you create a more engaged individual. When you are happier at work, you are happier at home. When you have the skills to deal with a crisis at home, you are a more productive and creative person at work.
I’ve created the Trifecta of Success. It’s a three tiered way of spending your day to give you the option to be more successful in every aspect of your life. It’s not complicated or complex. It does take increased self-awareness and a willingness to make deliberate choices for effective change. However, if that sounds difficult, repetition and small baby steps help on that journey. I’ll show you how. In the coming months I will share with you the techniques necessary to create these changes, for you and your business. It will create greater engagement, loyalty and satisfaction among those who are willing and open to a more positive and productive life.
This article is available for reprint as long as the following information is included:
Julie Ann Sullivan works with organizations that want to create a workplace environment where people are productive, engaged and appreciated. Join the revolution and listen to the Mere Mortals Unite podcast show. Julie Ann’s newest book is titled, A little bit of GRATITUDE goes a long way. Julie Ann lives in Pittsburgh PA with her poodle Joy. Learn more about Julie Ann by visiting

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