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Rick Blabolil
September 23, 2011

Is the Ground Shifting Under Your Feet?

Do you have the feeling that the ground is shifting under your feet? It is. And it’s not about to stop any time soon. You probably feel it wherever you go, and certainly on the job, every day, as you work to keep your employees motivated and engaged. In fact, this might be where you feel the ground shifting most acutely, because your employees are the face of the shifting terrain. They are:

Multi-generational. We know there are at least four generations in today’s workplace, and maybe five, depending on who you listen to: The Silent Generation or Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y (also called “Millennials”), and, more recently, Generation Z—those born after 1990 who are just entering the workforce. Each generation has different motivations, engages with work and with each other differently, and has dissimilar personal goals. And probably all of them are all in your workforce..(Source:

Diverse. Today’s workforce is diverse along lines of race, ethnicity, and gender. According to a Hudson Institute report, Workforce 2010, white/non-Hispanics comprised 73 percent of the total workforce in 2005. However, that figure is expected to shrink to 68 percent by 2020, while at the same time the percent of Hispanics in the workforce will increase from 11 percent to 14 percent. African American participation will remain steady at 11 percent and Asian American will increase just one percent, from 5 percent to 6 percent. (Source: Companies have been addressing the issues surrounding racial, ethnic, and gender complexities inherent in today’s workforce. And more than likely you have had exposure to training and motivational programs that address issues arising from diversity. But there’s a new twist to the diversity challenge, and it comes from our first point—the diversity of generations in the workplace. (Source:

Social media savvy. The Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project  ( recently reported that 79 percent of surveyed adults use the Internet and more than half of those Internet users also use one or more social media sites—a figure that has nearly doubled since 2008. And in those three years the users of social networks have changed, shifting toward more mature users. In 2008, 68 percent of social network users were 18-35 years old. By 2010, that figure dropped to 48 percent, while the biggest gains were among respondents in the 50-65 age group. Overall, you are dealing with an increasingly networked workforce, employees who relate to the world and to each other in a non-linear way. Engaging and motivating this workforce will need to reflect this.

Constantly changing. Today’s employees are not yesterday’s employees and they are not tomorrow’s. Remember how just a couple of years ago we were told that Boomers would all be retiring and we planned around losing that knowledge base? Guess what: They haven’t retired, and their presence creates a new challenge for employers—and for younger employees who may perceive still-at-work Boomers as barriers to their own advancement.

Addressing the complexity inherent in motivating today’s workforce requires considerable agility. Gone are the days when a single program could be rolled out to a generic audience. Employers must be innovative, nimble, and make a genuine effort to engage and motivate their workforce in ways that resonate with who they are—individuals—and not what they are – employees. Here’s an example:

Service awards have long been a standard recognition event. But are they always appropriate or even practical? We worked with a major telecommunications company that decided to throw out their service awards. Why? The vast majority of the workforce was age 35 and younger. Most had been there less than five years. The promise of a service award at some future date had little power to motivate. They wanted to focus on the building of an internal social community that produced “now.” The company implemented a robust program, linked to specific goals and performance results. The rewards for achievement were specifically chosen to address the demographics and psychographics of the workforce.  Promotion of the program was ongoing and used every available medium—print, video, and Intranet. And the program was continuously tracked, monitored and modified as needed.

So, in a rapidly changing world, how do you reach, motivate, engage, and reward employees who, in fact, embody that change? Perhaps the answer is not rigidly programmatic in nature, but is dynamic. Perhaps the solution is not a product, but a process.  And perhaps the answer lies not in application but in conversation. A fluid, ongoing, evolving conversation between you, your employees and your partners in the process.

Please join us in the conversation by adding your comments below.

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