Generational Differences in the Workplace: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt Your Bottom Line

By Max Dorfman, Research Writer, Insurance Information Institute

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Jennifer J. Deal, Ph.D., Senior Research Scientist with the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), who helped provide insights into generational differences, leadership, and the insurance industry.

Deal will be speaking on many of these points at her upcoming talk at the WCRI’s 36 Annual Issues & Research Conference, March 5 and 6, 2020, in Boston, MA. She points to WCRI’s data-driven model as a mission she shares – and pushing for a greater understanding of the employees they both study. Deal also notes the importance of generating this data-driven understanding for the insurance business, which is tackling how to best engage and retain Millennial and Gen Z employees, groups that hold the future of the industry.

Why is studying Millennial engagement important?

Organizations want employees to be engaged and are deeply concerned that young people aren’t engaged at work. In general, when new cohorts come into an organization, it’s important to understand if anything is meaningfully different about them. If there is, then the organization can address it and hopefully continue to be effective as it integrates the new employees into the larger organization. 

How can a company use your insights to create a more cohesive, inclusive environment?

A company can use my work to help staff better understand the perspectives of the different generations.  Part of what my work does is provide data-based information about generations to clarify where there is a difference between stereotypes and reality.  This helps both leaders and people throughout organizations understand the perspectives of people from other generations who may or may not think like them.

How do generational differences affect the bottom line?

When people feel disengaged because they feel pushed aside or ignored simply because they’re from a particular generation, that’s a cost. When a company feels the need to implement very expensive training programs that aren’t necessarily going to improve how people work together because they don’t move the needle on the real issues, that’s a cost. When people leave because of unmet needs, that’s a cost. Unnecessary tension, conflict, and disengagement that arises because of generational stereotypes is a drag on the organization – and the bottom line.

Do you see all this affecting the insurance industry?

Definitely. I’ve had numerous conversations with leaders in the insurance industry about issues related to attraction and retention of the next generation of employees. One of the conversations we’ve had is about the desire of young people to have stability in their careers. Young people are much more interested in stability and long-term careers than people think they are. If that’s something the insurance industry can offer, it will likely be of great interest to young people.