Generations Engagement Survey

Millennials are entitled, avocado-toast-eating industry killers. Baby boomers are resistant to change and burning down the world. Gen Z is entering the workplace and starting wars with phrases like “OK, boomer.” And Gen X might just be happiest if we all act like CBS and leave them out of it.

Hyperbole aside, it might seem like the generations can’t possibly work together. And yet, every day, employees of all generations and backgrounds collaborate across the world to build amazing companies, products, and services. 

In today’s hyper-competitive environment where “optimized productivity” is the name of the game, leaders are challenged to keep their diverse employee base engaged while providing the unique tools each group needs to be productive and collaborate — at scale. In fact, a recent Deloitte survey revealed that 85% of executives deem employee engagement to be a high priority in their companies.

In order to help you build an engagement strategy that empowers your team across generations, Wrike surveyed 5,000+ adults in the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Australia who work full-time for an organization with more than 500 employees on the topics of engagement and productivity. Below, we highlight key differences between generations in our survey findings. 

Check out our full survey report to learn more about how job level, geography, gender, personality, company size, and more impact engagement and productivity.

Employees are engaged, but are they productive?

Employee engagement is not the same as happiness or satisfaction. Engagement is the personal commitment an employee has to their organization’s goals and overall success. It’s the amount of passion they have for their work and their willingness to put forth effort. 

In our global study, 91% of full-time employee respondents said that they feel engaged or very engaged at work. For those familiar with Gallup’s 2018 survey of employee engagement, which reported employee engagement at 34%, this initial number might seem unbelievably high. However, Gallup also reported that 13% of their respondents felt disengaged, which is in the ballpark of our 9% figure. And if you only consider our “Very Engaged” cohort at 40%, the numbers start to align. 

It’s also important to note that in our survey, 65% of respondents were in leadership positions, and research has shown that managers tend to be more engaged than individual contributors. Our survey reflected this — 13% of individual contributors reported being disengaged, compared to 5% of managers and 3% of executive respondents. 

How engaged are you at your current company? Total
Very Engaged 40%
Engaged 51%
Disengaged 7%
Very Disengaged 2%

However, despite the 91% of respondents who felt engaged or very engaged, only 18% overall reported being productive 90% of the time or more. Almost half of those surveyed (48%) said they were productive less than 75% of the time. Disengaged employees were even less productive. They were 80% more likely to say they were productive less than 75% of the time. 

On average, what percentage of the time are you motivated and productive at work? Total
Less than 10% 2%
11-24% of the time 3%
25-49% of the time 13%
50-74% of the time 30%
75-89% of the time 34%
90% of the time or more 18%

This productivity gap might be due to more than just employee laziness or disengagement. One study found that employees wasted 21.8 hours per week looking for documents and project information. That’s 54.5% of a 40-hour workweek. And in Wrike’s professional services industry survey, 3 in 10 of those surveyed said they could achieve 30-39% more meaningful work if the manual, repetitive tasks in their workload were automated. 

In a world where higher employee engagement can lead to better customer engagement, greater productivity, better retention, and 21% higher profitability, it’s well worth it for leaders to find effective employee engagement strategies that actually result in productivity. One way to create such a  strategy is by considering the generational demographics and desires of your team.

Engaged at every age

In our survey, the various generations reported almost the same level of engagement at work as our global results, without too much significant difference. When we broke down generations individual rankings for engagement by generation, Baby boomers didn’t quite align with other generations.. They ranked feeling well-compensated as their third reason at 26%, compared to 19% for other groups. 

What are the primary reasons why you’re engaged at work? Global Gen Z (18-22) Millennials (23-38) Baby Boomers (55-73)
I enjoy my role and the work I do 43% 36% 40% 52%
I collaborate well with the people I work with 40% 33% 38% 48%
I understand how my work contributes to overall company goals and success 26% 16% 25% 28%
My boss recognizes my hard work 22% 21% 24% 20%
I believe in my company’s mission and feel like my work gives me a bigger purpose 21% 20% 19% 22%
My company has a great culture where I feel respected and trusted by my peers 20% 20% 21% 16%
I have the tools, resources, and support I need to execute my work effectively 20% 16% 19% 18%
I feel fairly compensated for my work 19% 19% 18% 26%
My workload is well-balanced and I don’t have too much on my plate 16% 17% 17% 15%
I have a clear growth path and opportunities for career progression 16% 21% 19% 5%
My CEO is motivating and inspiring 9% 13% 11% 3%

In fact, compensation was one of the top reasons one generation said they felt disengaged. Every generation ranked “I feel like my work is undervalued or unrecognized” as their top reason for feeling disengaged. However, for 40% of millennials, that top spot tied with “I’m not making enough money.” In fact, millennials were 48% more likely to rank pay as a top reason for being disengaged than other generations. 

Although it may seem counterintuitive, increasing pay where appropriate for your team could actually boost revenue in the long run. Gallup estimates disengaged employees cost U.S. companies up to $550 billion in lost productivity. If raises or recognition could bridge that gap, it could have exponential benefits to the company’s overall bottom line.

Disengagement across generations

Due to sample sizes, the way some generations react to disengagement is different from the global results, and it’s worth noting. While the top impact of feeling disengaged is productivity suffering globally, for Gen Z employees, quality of their work or customer service are first to suffer by a significant amount. They are staying productive on the outside, but the impact of their disengagement could have an even more lasting negative impact on business. While reports may show they are on schedule, poor quality or customer service has lasting impacts that force leaders to be reactive rather than proactive. That’s why custom engagement strategies are critical for companies today.

It’s also interesting to note that millennials and Gen X were more likely to look for a new job when disengaged. In a study by Gallup, only 27% of fully engaged employees said they would consider leaving their job for a raise of 20% or less, whereas 54% of disengaged employees would leave for the same incentive. High turnover costs time and money, and impacts team morale. The right employee engagement strategy can dramatically increase employee retention.

What are the primary reasons why you’re disengaged at work? Total Gen Z (18-22) Millennials (23-38) Gen X (39-54) Baby Boomers (55-73)
I feel like my work is undervalued or unrecognized 45% 42% 40% 45% 59%
I’m not making enough money 32% 21% 40% 28% 25%
I’m uninterested in my company or job 21% 16% 20% 23% 17%
There’s a poor work culture where I feel untrusted and/or disrespected by my colleagues 24% 0% 24% 25% 29%
I don’t understand how my work fits into the big picture of company success 4% 5% 4% 4% 3%
I struggle to collaborate effectively with others 6% 21% 6% 4% 3%
I feel like my company and job lack a sense of greater purpose 15% 26% 15% 14% 10%
I don’t have the tools, resources, and support I need to execute my work effectively 15% 5% 12% 17% 20%
I’m burnt out from being overworked 29% 26% 25% 30% 34%
I don’t have a clear path to grow my skills or career 26% 21% 24% 27% 25%
My CEO is demotivating and uninspiring 13% 11% 12% 14% 12%

The productivity gap

In our study, perceived productivity seemed to rise with age. Baby boomers reported being more productive, even though all generations reported the same levels of engagement as our global results. 66% of baby boomers said they were productive at work more than 75% of the time, compared to 56% of Gen X, 46% of millennials, and 44% of Gen Z.

The generations generally agreed with our global results on what would make them more engaged. All generations said they would be more engaged at work if they had higher compensation or a better job title (42%), greater recognition for their accomplishments (30%), and a better work-life balance (24%). Other reports echo these results. 70% of respondents from a survey conducted by LinkedIn also said they would work harder if their efforts were recognized.

But when it comes to what would help generations be more productive, the results were pretty interesting. Breaking down capabilities in this way, “defined project ownership” and “processes to hold myself and others accountable” were in the top 5 for Gen Z and baby boomers.

Which of the following tools or capabilities would help you be more engaged and productive at work?

Gen Z (18-22) Millennials (23-38) Gen X (39-54) Baby Boomers (55-73)
A better way to structure and view my/my team's work so I can see how it supports larger company goals and initiatives (29%) The ability to access my work at any time and work effectively from anywhere (29%) The ability to access my work at any time and work effectively from anywhere (28%) A way for my manager to see everything on my plate and better balance my workload (27%)

The ability to access my work at any time and work effectively from anywhere (28%)
Automation for the repetitive or mundane parts of my job so I can focus on doing more impactful and strategic work (28%)
A way for my manager to see everything on my plate and better balance my workload (27%)
An easier and more effective way to collaborate in context across teams and stakeholders (26%)
Defined project ownership and processes to hold myself and others accountable (25%) A better way to structure and view my/my team's work so I can see how it supports larger company goals and initiatives (26%) An easier and more effective way to collaborate in context across teams and stakeholders (26%) The ability to access my work at any time and work effectively from anywhere (25%)
Automation for the repetitive or mundane parts of my job so I can focus on doing more impactful and strategic work (24%) A way for my manager to see everything on my plate and better balance my workload (25%) Automation for the repetitive or mundane parts of my job so I can focus on doing more impactful and strategic work (25%) A better way to structure and view my/my team's work so I can see how it supports larger company goals and initiatives (20%)
A way for my manager to see everything on my plate and better balance my workload (23%) An easier and more effective way to collaborate in context across teams and stakeholders (25%) A better way to structure and view my/my team's work so I can see how it supports larger company goals and initiatives (24%) Defined project ownership and processes to hold myself and others accountable (18%)

For many of these capabilities, a collaborative work management solution like Wrike can help. Wrike is cloud-based collaboration and project management software that’s flexible enough to provide the structure your team needs. It simplifies project planning, streamlines workflow processes, enables collaboration, and optimizes visibility into all your projects. There’s something to delight every generation. 

To learn how Wrike can help your team, check out our full product demo tour.

Find the right engagement strategy for your team

Every team has a different mix of generations and personalities — including employees who don’t fit their generational profile. When building your engagement strategy, consider the above information a guide. 

In our full survey report, we offer three actionable methods to build your engagement strategy. You’ll also learn more about the impact that roles, genders, personalities, company size, and more have on employee engagement and productivity. 

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