The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

4 Tips for Effectively Engaging a Multigenerational Workforce

This blog post was contributed by Sean Woodroffe, senior executive vice president and chief HR officer at TIAA.

Today’s employers face a tricky task. How do you manage a workforce that contains members of three or four generations, each with unique expectations and goals for their careers and retirements?

Chances are, your workforce has 60-year-olds thinking about retirement after a lifetime with your organization; 40-year-olds planning for their own retirement while saving for their children’s education; 30-year-olds stressed about student debt and wondering whether they’ll ever be able to meet their financial and professional goals; and fresh-faced 22-year-olds full of motivation and eager for direction.

It’s essential to understand the realities facing workers in different generations and to develop strategies that respond to each. This can seem daunting, but the good news is that as different as the generations are, many of their goals and aspirations overlap: a meaningful career, financial security and a retirement that will allow them to continue contributing to society on their own terms.

A survey TIAA fielded among employees and managers in not-for-profit organizations, including many higher education institutions, revealed several similarities in outlook among the generations that employers can leverage to provide a better work experience for everyone.

For instance, it’s clear that people who work for nonprofit organizations choose their employers with a purpose. Our survey showed that 75 percent of employees and 82 percent of managers at nonprofits continue to work at their organizations because they want to make a difference in other people’s lives. This holds true across generations — 78 percent of baby boomer employees say the values and mission of the organization are important in choosing to work for a nonprofit, while 76 percent of millennial managers who choose to work at nonprofits do so because they want to create real change in their communities.

The survey also found that only one-third of nonprofit employees and managers feel that success is defined by compensation, while more than 70 percent define success as helping others, their community or society.

This is not to say that nonprofit employees and managers are immune to financial concerns. Nearly seven in 10 millennial (66 percent) and Generation X (68 percent) managers are concerned they are not saving enough for retirement. They worry about retirement healthcare costs (nearly 80 percent), changes to Social Security (70 percent) and lack of guaranteed income in retirement (nearly 70 percent).

Higher education is a retirement savings bright spot, however, as more than three-quarters (77 percent) of higher ed managers and more than half (57 percent) of higher ed employees are confident they are saving enough for retirement.

As for how they plan to spend time in retirement, 56 percent of nonprofit managers plan to volunteer their time to an important cause, and 42 percent plan to contribute to the work that their current employer is focused on. These figures far exceed the general volunteer rate for people 65 and older, suggesting that the motivation to engage in meaningful nonprofit work doesn’t end when retirement starts.

So how can employee benefit programs and engagement strategies be used to meet the needs of workers from different generations as well as the needs of your organization? Here are four generation-based suggestions to help recruit the right employees, retain high performers, and give employees confidence to retire on a time frame and under terms that work for everyone:

  • Look for ways to innovate. Leverage technology, data analysis and best practices to understand how demographic shifts and the multigenerational nature of today’s workforce may impact your employee benefits offerings. Data show that employees are eager to improve their financial well-being and retirement readiness. Offering consultations with financial advisors can demonstrate that you’re attuned to employee concerns and want to help them take action to plan a financially secure future. It’s important to engage with employees on the topics that are most relevant to them. For example, employers can help improve financial wellness for younger workers by sharing budgeting or student debt management suggestions or help individuals in their 40s and 50s with how to pay for their kids’ college while continuing to save for retirement. For today’s tech-savvy and mobile workers, find out how they want to manage their retirement finances, and adopt solutions that keep them engaged.
  • Consider multigenerational cross-mentoring programs so that generations can learn from each other and transfer knowledge. Your long-time employees have a lot to offer those who are new to the organization and new to the workforce. Matching seasoned employees with newcomers can benefit both generations. Experienced workers, such as baby boomers, will be able to advance the mission of the organization they’ve served for many years while building bonds with the generation that will carry on their work. New workers, such as millennials and the newest hires in generations Y and Z, will deepen their understanding of how the organization approaches its mission and have a mentor ready to assist as they take responsibility in the workplace and manage their own careers. The younger generations can also help the experienced workers approach things differently or leverage new technologies.
  • Consider phased retirement or partner relationships with retirees to help employees transition to retirement and ensure your organization doesn’t suffer from knowledge and experience gaps. Many baby boomers approaching retirement don’t want to hear the door slam behind them. They want to keep contributing in some fashion, just not at the full-time tempo they’ve kept up for decades. Allowing them to transition out of the workforce will allow you to harness their passion and expertise and also help to alleviate any financial stress they may be feeling by providing a source of income as they get accustomed to their new lifestyle.
  • Communicate benefits in ways that reach the right people with the right messages at the right time through the right media. Use employee survey results to understand what will resonate with different groups and drive knowledge and awareness. Stay on top of how different employee groups like to receive information and what will motivate them to act on it. This will show employees that you genuinely value their feedback and participation and will enable you to respond to emerging concerns in real time.

Your employees, no matter their generation, have been drawn to your organization by a desire to serve a greater good. By offering employee benefits and engagement strategies that respond to the financial and purpose-driven needs of each generation, you can empower employees to have impact throughout their careers and equip them with the financial confidence to continue contributing to your mission in retirement.

For more on employee engagement, visit the Employee Engagement toolkit in CUPA-HR’s Knowledge Center. 


The CUPA-HR national office will be closed July 4 in observance of Independence Day.