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Article No.: 08-9

Article Title: Retention is NOT a One Size Fits All Proposition

Author: Linda Gravett, Ph.D., SPHR, CEQC

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When I ask executives what keeps them awake at night, inevitably the answer is how to retain key talent. The investment required to retain staff doesn’t even compare to the cost to replace staff, which runs 50 – 150% of a leaving employee’s annual salary.  Why don’t companies focus more time and money on retention, then?!  Often, I hear that it’s because there’s no magic bullet answer. . . it’s complicated.
Recently, I interviewed 500 people in each of the four generations in today’s workplace for my book with Robin Throckmorton, Bridging the Generation Gap.  One of the questions I asked was, “What entices you to stay with an organization?”  I subdivided their responses by gender as well as generation and discovered some interesting facts which I’ll share in this article.
Before delving into retention approaches for each generation and gender, I think your first step is to figure out what your workforce dynamic looks like.  To do this, I suggest that you conduct an age profile and gender analysis.  According to a recent survey of 150 Human Resource executives by HR Powerhouse, 66% of companies have not conducted an age profile and have no idea of their demographic breakdown.  I believe you can apply techniques for retention after you know that breakdown, not before.
The second key point is this:  all generations are not motivated by the same factors.  This workplace diversity can provide your company with a competitive advantage, if leveraged effectively.  You won’t, however, be able to apply one magic retention bullet for all employees.  There’s no one-size-fits-all solution.
If you’re committed to apply multiple solutions to retaining your workforce, let’s
get started. . .

Retaining Radio Babies (Born 1930 – 45)

Interviews with 500 Radio Babies (250 women and 250 men) revealed that the top reasons that compel them to stay with an organization were:

  •  Felt their experience and expertise are respected
  • Flexible, tailored benefits are offered
  • Company demonstrates loyalty to employees

Amazingly, the responses were twice as high for men, for all three answers, than women.  This may partly be based on the fact that a higher number of Radio Baby men work outside the home than women.  However, women in this generation volunteer their time and continue to do so well into their 70s, 80s and even 90s.  Depending on your industry, you may find yourself managing volunteers in this age group, and you will need to find ways to offer them an environment where they feel their experience and expertise are valued.
Radio Babies are the generation that built the foundation of many of our companies and they want to contribute as long as they are capable.  The respect and loyalty you provide to them will help them stay motivated.  You can show that you value their expertise by:

  •  Inclusion in strategic planning sessions
  •  Involvement in focus groups or task forces
  •  Work with diversity initiatives and councils
  •  Opportunity to mentor others
  •  Requests to write articles for company or external publications
  •  Opportunity to speak on the company’s behalf within the community

Flexible, tailored benefits also appeal to the Radio Baby generation.  Some examples of this include:

  •  Vision Care
  •  Long-term care insurance
  •  Short-term nursing care for self or spouse
  •  EAP for grief counseling
  •  Elder Care
  •  Financial and estate planning

Retaining Baby Boomers (Born 1946 – 1964)

The Baby Boomer generation is the generation that was most unique in their responses between the genders.  Again, I asked 500 Boomers (250 men and 250 women), “What compels you to stay with an organization?”  The top answers were:

  • Continuing advancement opportunities
  • Experience and expertise are respected
  •  Work continues to be interesting and challenging

However, when I broke down the data further, I found that the men were much more interested in continuing advancement opportunities (31% more) and desirous of respect for their experience and expertise (21% more) than the women.  However, the women (45% more) had a stronger preference to stay only if their work is interesting and challenging.
This is an interesting finding considering the push for advancement of women to higher level positions in organizations over the last decade.  A key point I want to make is that advancement alone will not retain Boomer women.  They also want work that feeds their brain.
The Boomer men I interviewed did not necessarily define advancement as a promotion.  They consider advancement as growth opportunities at a lateral level, job rotation, special projects, or specific long-term assignments that stretch their talents.
There are a few retention options that Baby Boomers shared with me that an organization can consider:

  •  Flexible work schedules
  •  Part-time jobs
  •  Phased retirement options
  •  Longer vacations
  •  Training and development outside their field
  •  Job sharing options
  •  Volunteer options (i.e., presentations in the community)

Given the size and expertise of the Boomer generation, I’m sure that astute companies will accept the challenge to accommodate some of these interests in order to keep these employees around for years to come.

Enticing Gen Xers (Born Between 1965 – 1979) to Stay

Once you understand what influenced the Gen Xers as they grew up, you’ll understand why the 500 individuals I interviewed in this generation said the top reasons they would stay with an organization are:

  •  Career development opportunities
  •  Ability to enjoy work/life balance
  •  Work with a company that has values and integrity

Gen Xers are the smallest of the four generations in the workplace (about 34 million).  Many of them grew up either in broken homes or in dual income families and were raised as latchkey children.  They learned to spend time on their own.  They watched their parents experience rounds of downsizing, cutbacks, and mergers and concluded that company loyalty was a thing of the past. 
With this in mind, it comes as no surprise that the top reason 41% of interviewees said they’d stay with a company for career development opportunities.  This was almost equal across men and women, but was slightly more important for the men.  The organizations that can create and implement multiple ways for their employees, particularly Gen Xers, to partake in development opportunities are the ones that will have high retention rates.  I’d recommend sitting with each individual and developing an IDP (individual development plan) that meets their professional development interests and supports the company’s business imperatives.  This will garner loyalty and trust.
The second highest response was the ability to enjoy work/life balance.  Surprise:  more women than men said this!  However, men were only 20% behind the women in expressing a need for balance between work and family life.  More men are beginning to take an interest in sharing the roles and responsibilities that were once relegated to females in the household.  Many more men are expressing the desire for quality time with their family.  Organizations are trying to discover ways they can help create this balance by offering such benefits as:

  • Concierge services (i.e., oil changes, dinner on wheels, dry cleaning service)
  •  Time off with or without pay
  •  Flexible working hours
  •  Onsite child care or sick child care
  •  Telecommuting
  •  Time off specifically for attendance at children’s activities

By the way, the other generations are watching – and seeking the same balance!
The Xers I interviewed were keen on working with ethical organizations.  An important question for them is, “Do my values and integrity line up with that of the company?”  The women definitely outweighed the mean in this area, so if you want to retain female Gen Xers, you’ll want to ensure you have a high level of trust and values that mirror those of your employees.  Focus on building a brand as an ethical organization.

How in the World Do You Keep Gen Yers?!  (Born between 1980 – 1993)

The average tenure of a Gen Y is about 18 months.  You can blow this average out of the water if you pay attention to what the 500 interviewees told me during my research.  The top responses for what compels Gen Yers to stay with an organization were:

  •  Their ideas and input are solicited and valued
  •  They have career development opportunities
  •  The company provides a quality service or product and has a strong, positive public image

The women in this generation were more consistent and strong with their responses than the men.  This is a trend you may have noticed as we’ve moved from the older generations to the younger generations.  Women are taking stronger positions about their expectations and are very vocal about them.
Somewhat similar to the Gen Xers, Gen Yers will continue working for a company that provides a quality service or product.  If the company does not have quality and integrity behind its product or service, Gen Yers will become disillusioned quickly. . . and leave.  This is not a generation that moves in lock-step formation; however, so one retention solution won’t work here.  Some possible solutions include:

  •  Coaching and mentoring
  •  Opportunity to have support roles on projects
  •  Ability to shadow senior team members for short time frames

Gen Yers are a highly technical generation.  Whatever solutions you identify to implement, I encourage you to incorporate as much technology as you can, particularly with training.  The IDPs mentioned as a solution for Gen Xers will work for Yers, too.
Gen Y women in the interviews had a higher response rate on the issue of desiring respect.  If they don’t feel respected and valued and are treated like children, they’ll leave and take their fresh new ideas to start a competing organization.  Here are some ways you can demonstrate that you value Gen Yers:

  •  Explain specifically how their work will impact projects
  • Describe how projects they work on support the company’s Mission
  •  Give them regular opportunities to share their ideas
  •  Provide autonomy; don’t hover
  •  Offer tailored recognition and awards

You’ve probably concluded that it takes a great deal of effort to retain quality employees.  That effort will definitely cost you less time and money than replacement costs for high turnover of valued skills.  So please think about these suggestions. . .

  1.  Conduct an age and gender profile analysis of your workforce
  2.  Ask you employees what they want and need to stay with your company
  3.  Tailor your efforts to each generation

Your competitors will think you’ve found a magic bullet!

If you have any questions or need more information about this article, please complete our Contact Form, or contact Dr. Gravett by telephone at 513-753-8870.

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