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Retention by Generation - What Matters Most

POSTED BY
Heidi Erdmann-Sullivan on June 06, 2017 10:30 AM

It’s hard to be everything to everyone. In fact, most would say it’s impossible. Yet, HR professionals are tasked with this demand every day in their work, faced with meeting the varied needs of an increasingly diverse workforce. 

Millennials. Generation X. Baby Boomers. Each generation has its own distinct set of values, needs and expectations.  And employers are continually trying to find just the right secret formula for each one. The formula that will not only attract the best and brightest in each generation, but will also keep them consistently engaged, growing in their roles, and ultimately, on track for long-term retention.    

But what really makes employees in each generation want to stick around?

Millennials:
Engagement. Or lack thereof. It’s what’s at the heart of Millennial turnover.  Recent research from Gallup shows that only 29% of Millennials are engaged at their jobs.  Why? Lack of meaning and purpose to their work, dissatisfaction with management style and company cultures, limited leadership opportunities and not enough of mobility. 

How can employers combat these issues and keep Millennials moving up the ranks?

RELATED: What Your Millennial Employees Want out of Your Corporate Culture

Generation X:

In the prime of their careers, self-reliant Gen Xers have gained the knowledge, experience and expertise they need to take on greater leadership roles at their organizations.  They want to see their work shape and steer the business, and they want their role in that change to be clearly defined, recognized and rewarded.

Here are four ways to keep Generation X thriving and committed to the future of your organization:

RELATED: 7 Stress Management Tips for Sandwich Generation Employees

Baby Boomers:
Even with some working longer than previous generations, the Baby Boomer brain drain is fast approaching – with an average 3.6 million leaving the workforce annually. In fact, a Gallup poll found that “only a third of the oldest baby boomers (age 67-68) in the U.S. is still working.”  The loss of their expertise, wisdom and skill sets will be significant. A 2015 LIMRA study found that eight in ten employers felt their organizations lost experience, institutional knowledge and leadership when an older employee left. 

Rather than address the Boomer departure as one that simply requires knowledge transfer, better support and prolong this phase of your employees' careers. 

Here are four ways to keep Boomers from leaving or retiring from your organization:

  • Mentoring and Training: Establish and reinforce Baby Boomers’ integral role as respected, valued mentors to younger generations. On the flip side, offer Boomers the opportunity to be “reverse mentored” by their Gen X and Millennial peers in areas like technology trends and social media. Provide Boomers with ample, ongoing training opportunities so they are continually given the chance to diversify and increase their skill set – and stay engaged.
  • Adapt office facilities: One study showed that 60 percent of Baby Boomers leave their employer due to a health problem or acquired disabilities. Consider your office space, your building, and the tools and technology that could better support Boomers as they face increased physical limitations.
  • Offer phased retirements: As this Monster.com article suggests (based on programs offered by federal government agencies), consider creating part-time work opportunities for Boomers where they earn partial salary and draw from retirement benefits, while they continue to mentor other employees.
  • Benefits and flexibility: Boomers need to know their health and retirement benefits are top notch and will provide the care they need as they age and face leaving the workforce. Additionally, they need flexibility and benefits that help support them in their role as primary caregiver to senior loved ones, spouses or partners, or adult children managing needs or illnesses. Consider offering senior and backup care as part of your package.


Our workplace is rapidly changing, and so are the reasons why employees in each generation choose to leave their employers. HR must be nimble in adjusting their retention strategies in response. Fortunately, most employees want the opportunity to express why they’re compelled to leave and what will motivate them to stay.  Provided we are listening and responding to these needs, retention will improve.

While the strategy behind retaining Millennials, Generation X and Baby Boomers differs, they all share common themes: the desire for more inclusive cultures, greater flexibility, benefits that support their lives outside of work, and a more personalized workplace experience.

And hopefully, the lessons learned from retaining each of these three generations in the modern workplace will provide greater insight to the fourth newest piece joining the retention puzzle: Generation Z. 

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Heidi Erdmann-Sullivan

As Director, Sales and Marketing at Care.com, Heidi is responsible for developing innovative, results-driven programs for Care@Work – a consumer-centered portfolio of family care for employers and their diverse workforce. Passionate about helping HR professionals improve the lives of their employees, Heidi follows and writes about the top trends and research impacting both employees and employers in the workplace, including the future of work, consumerism and HR, building employer brands, pay equity and paid leave policy, and company culture. Prior to joining Care.com, Heidi led marketing teams at a variety of technology companies including Constant Contact. She lives north of Boston with her husband Brian and their “daughter” Lexi – a 10 lb. Shih-Tzu therapy dog.