Thomas Wessling

Annually, Towers Watson conducts research with ten major global companies and has consistently found an irrefutable link between the customer experience required to drive profitable growth and the employee experiences required to deliver this customer experience. Companies exhibiting the attributes of being ‘exponentially engaged'...

  • Relentlessly focus on the customer
  • Emphasize organizational efficiency
  • Present a compelling brand or image
  • Provide a superior level of product/service quality
  • Deliver a consistently exceptional level of innovation

...have an operation margin 3x compared to their low engagement counterparts. Additionally, both Towers Watson and Gallup have concluded that as much as 65% of any given workforce are disengaged or highly disengaged. Creating an environment of genuine engagement should be strategic and imperative for any enterprise.

However, creating and sustaining engagement can be challenging, especially when you're dealing with younger generations with values different from many of their managers and leaders. Although smart and hard-working, the emerging workforce is unlike previous generations in crucial ways.

Understanding Generations X and Y

Generation X ("Gen-Xers")

born early-'60s to mid-'80s
fiercely independent, highly adaptable
technology enhances work and life
questions authority
diversity is important and sought after
cynical about long-term job security

Generation Y ("Millennials")
born mid-'80s to early 2000s
casually independent, highly collaborative
technology is fundamental to work and life
challenges authority
diversity is a non-issue (simply a given)
no expectation of long-term job security

To maintain the loyalty of employees from Generations X or Y, it will take more than annual bonuses. Indeed, it will require things that have nothing to do with money. This is not to say money doesn't motivate these workers, but they want to maximize the value exchange with their employer. If they find themselves in a place that will give them encouragement, praise and recognition on a regular basis, that might make the difference between seeking the brass ring elsewhere or staying put.

While different, these are both generations that value self-esteem and appreciate an employer that genuinely helps cultivate it. With parents often absent due to work, Gen-Xers are typically more cynical and strive for a work-life balance; meanwhile, Millennials are ready to take on the world, raised by highly enabling parents and maintaining their day-to-day relationships through social media.

The Value of Values

It's important to note that the younger generations have little use for the button-down customs of the corporate world. That doesn't mean you should reorient your entire culture; good employees sometimes have to adapt to their surroundings. But as a new generation comes along with less value on the traditions of those who came before it, it's not a bad idea for a company to assess some of its customs.

This is particularly true within sales organizations where employees come and go with astounding regularity. That makes it hard to build team cohesion, and it renders a lot of the training next to worthless. This is in part because the new generations—raised in consumer economies—expect quicker gratification with respect to its compensation. If there is a sales organization in which these workers think they can generate better numbers and better money for themselves, they see no reason not to jump. After all, unless you give them a reason to think otherwise, they probably assume you would have no loyalty to them.

Can you give these employees a reason to think otherwise? Can you create the kind of environment in which they feel valued beyond monetary rewards? Remember, they may jump for more money, but they value their self-esteem a great deal. If they can be convinced they'll get the compensation they believe they deserve in an environment that affirms their worth as people that might be the closest approximation to employee loyalty this generation will give you. Is it worth the effort to do all this? Will you actually get a tangible benefit in return?

Numerous business experts have studied and reported that companies that recognize and reward their people beyond traditional cash compensation outperform companies that don't by 30–40 percent. Recognition and non-cash incentives can change a company's culture, encouraging loyalty, engagement and enthusiasm, as well as bottom-line results.

Engaged employees are more likely to stay with the organization, receive higher loyalty and satisfaction scores from customers and have better safety records and fewer accidents on the job.

The Bottom Line

Are you really connecting with your younger employees beyond base compensation? Take an honest look at that question, and don't be afraid to see the truth. That's how you can ensure that all the young talent you've attracted, developed and cultivated will pay back your loyalty with some of their own.

Thomas Wessling is an executive vice president at Performance Plus Marketing in Roswell, GA. He can be reached at