Generating Generational Retention: Beyond “Show Me The Money”

By Neil McEachern, CHRP

As HR professionals, two of our key mandates are to attract top talent to our respective organizations and to ensure that we retain this talent.  In the past few years, one has had to do little to attract interest when it came to hiring, due to the times in which we live, and the abundance of individuals looking for work.  While this can be considered to be a good thing, it has acted as a double-edged sword, as complacency has set in with the belief that retention is not necessarily something one must focus upon due to employees usually wanting to stay in place.  However, as the Canadian economy slowly recovers, we must pay closer attention to the concept of retention and how to employ it in a multi-generational workforce.  We shall explore if there is indeed any difference between the generations when it comes to retaining top talent or if it really does boil down to who pays top dollar.

When dealing with retention we must determine what intrinsic/extrinsic factors we can offer employees to not only keep them in a working with our organization but also to keep them motivated to accomplish our goals.  Is it the monetary compensation and the benefits, or is it the culture, the work-life balance, the challenge?  While the workforce has been broken down into generations (from the retiring Baby Boomers to the newly-entering Generation Yers), do the stereotypes that are associated with them apply as well to retention?

When it comes to Baby Boomers, these individuals are often at the end of their careers, but they still are some of the top talent out there. Wowever, what motivates these individuals?  One can argue that monetary compensation is the least of this generation’s worries, as by now the majority of them may be set for retirement; however, it is likely that the thought of a challenge, i.e. one last hurrah, may be enough to entice or retain these individuals at least until they feel it is time for them to eventually retire.

Generations Xers are now beginning to make up the bulk of the workforce and one can see management roles previously held by Baby Boomers slowly being replaced by members of Generation X.  Do the same principles that attract and retain those of the Baby Boomer generation work on Generation Xers?  One could assume that Gen Xers are likely to now have some sort of dependents to look after, be it a partner, children, or both and this certainly has an impact on what motivates them to stay in their current role, and factors into a decision for leaving.  Thus an argument can be made that the philosophy of work-life balance likely has a greater appeal to those individuals who are members of Generation X.

What then motivates members of Generation Y?3 These individuals are now making their mark on the workforce and are beginning to take on the reigns of middle management, but mainly still represent the junior employees of an organization.  Gen Yers are often perceived to be seeking instant gratification, thus making it easy to assume that what motivates these individuals is monetary compensation; this is further exacerbated by the current financial crises.  However, is it really monetary compensation or is it the workplace culture that truly motivates Generation Y?  There is no doubting that Gen Yers are an ambitious bunch, which can lead to problems when a workplace has yet to cope with how to handle this generation.  Thus, could we suggest that it is the organizational culture that really motivates a member of Generation Y to either stay or leave?

Irregardless, we cannot forget the infamous quote of “show me the money!” .  One can note how each generation has been assigned a niche to call their own in terms of intrinsic motivators as we have observed above.  We have yet to cover the topic of external motivators – in this case, it’s the money.  Without doubt, monetary compensation – along with benefits – still plays an integral part in retention (as well as attraction); while on the surface it may not seem to be the case, it is likely still an underlying factor.  Does it all come down to the money?  You decide.

Thus, as HR professionals, we should consider these observations, as they are likely to aid us as the economy slowly recovers, and we see retention return to a role of equal significance with the attraction of top talent.

Jerry McGuire. Dir. Cameron Crowe. Perf. Tom Cruise, Cuba Gooding, Jr., and Renée Zellweger. Gracie Films, 1996. DVD.
McFarland, Keith. “Why Zappos Offers New Hires $2,000 to Quit – BusinessWeek.” BusinessWeek – Business News, Stock Market & Financial Advice. 18 Sept. 2008. Web. 15 Dec. 2010. <>.

(PeopleTalk: Spring 2011)


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