The current workplace is comprised of people from five generations, the broadest range of ages ever to work together. Diversity and inclusion dialogue today recognizes differences in gender, sexual orientation, race, and socio-economic status, yet age considerations frequently are overlooked. In many nonprofits, employees aged 22 to 82 are working together toward a common goal, and employers must learn how to effectively mobilize and engage them.

A millennial employee

The five generations

The generation groups that exist in your organization today may include the following:

  • Traditionalists—born before 1946: Traditionalists lived through the Great Depression and World War II. They typically do not question authority and have a strong work ethic. Today some Traditionalists are delaying retirement due to quality of life considerations, insufficient retirement funds, or a desire to extend traditional employment into their later years.
  • Baby Boomers—born between 1946 and 1964: Boomers grew up in a time of economic prosperity and were the first generation to prioritize work over their personal life. They typically prefer human touch to technology and are optimistic, competitive, and sometimes workaholics.
  • Generation X—born between 1965 and 1980: Unlike their predecessors, Gen X values work-life balance. They are typically independent, respond well to work challenges, flexible, and adaptable.
  • Millennials—born between 1981 and 1996: Millennials are the first generation to rely heavily on technology and are the most educated group of employees today. Like Gen X, they are remarkably adaptable and flexible. Typically, Millennials are ambitious and entrepreneurial.
  • Generation Z—born after 1996: Also known as post-Millennials, Gen Z are even more tech-savvy and multicultural than their predecessors. Extensive research has yet to be done on their work habits, but this generation is showing itself as eager to earn money and change the world.

The most studied generation in history

Of the above generations, Millennials are the largest segment in the workplace today. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2020, 50 percent of the U.S. workforce is expected to be made up of Millennials, and by 2030, that number will be as high as 75 percent.

During the past decade, this generation has been largely studied and frequently criticized. As they began to enter the workforce, many Millennials’ Boomer parents were managing them, which was a cause for judgment from employers and older co-workers. The irony, however, is that Boomers were equally disruptive and demanding when they entered the workforce 50 years ago.

Engaging Millennials in your organization

According to Gallup’s report, How Millennials Want to Live and Work, only 29 percent of Millennials are engaged in their work while 55 percent are not engaged, and 16 percent are actively disengaged.

Throughout my years researching and working with Millennials, data and experience have taught me that this generation isn’t much different from the rest of us. The following engagement principles will help you to more effectively motivate Millennials—and all employees—in your workforce:

  • Communicate well. From day one, explain to Millennials their job responsibilities and goals, how to meet those goals, and where they can go from there.
  • Be transparent: When it comes to workplace change, everyone wants to understand the reasoning and logic behind decisions that affect their jobs, and Millennials are no different. Be open and upfront when change is ensuing.
  • Provide ongoing feedback: The stereotype is that during Millennials’ childhood, everyone got a trophy. That may be overstated, but feedback is important to this generation. Ensure that you are sharing frequent and constructive feedback about their job performance.
  • Encourage growth and advancement: As Millennials evolve in their career paths, they want to experience different things at different times. Establish expectations for employees along the way so they understand when and how they can pursue new career milestones.

Remember—age is fluid, and so are people’s expectations. For example, new employees want mentoring and development opportunities, mid-level managers want pathways for advancement and better compensation, and executives want flexibility and career autonomy. As your Millennial employees grow in their careers, continue to check in with them about what motivates them toward greater performance.