In the ongoing economic uncertainty, attitudes have changed towards employers. Our latest research, n at the UK private sector, shows how these attitude changes differ between the generations in the workforce which partly reflect their experience of previous economic downturns. Employee engagement levels have actually increased since summer 2008. The highest increases in engagement were found in the energy, engineering and technology sectors. This increase in engagement reflects two changes: more discretionary effort and intention to stay with the current employer.
So, are employers right to take comfort that retention is improved during an economic downturn? Well, it depends on the generational profile of your workforce.
Those most likely to leave are the youngest workers (Generation Z are under 25 years old) who lack a significant connection to their current employer and have quickly learned the importance of boosting their employable skillset. However, amongst these young workers, we have found a group of people motivated to find ways to improve organisational performance and feel their organisation is making appropriate changes for the future. However, they are sceptical that senior managers are doing what they say they will and relatively few feel that their individual contribution is recognised by their employer.
This attitude contrasts with the optimism and engagement of those who joined the workforce during the long economic growth (Gen Y are 25 to 34 years old) which remains surprisingly unabated through the economic uncertainty. However, for Gen Y, employers still need to manage their career expectations and support opportunities within the organisation.
There are different engagement challenges with older workers who are more experienced with economic downturns. With Gen X (35 to 49 years old), we found a possible divergence between their views and efforts and the direction of their employer – this group need to be convinced about and aligned with the organisation’s future direction. Whilst for Boomers (those 50 years and over), employers may need to engage with them more around the personal employability agenda. Many in this generation have started to pay less attention to their own personal development – which may leave them with fewer job opportunities in the next few years.