Mind The Engagement Gap

Written by Sarah Sladek on June 13, 2017

Millennials became the majority of the workforce in 2015, and ever since then many leaders have treated their arrival into the workforce much like they would if aliens had landed in New York City – with fear and skepticism and often taking a defensive stance.

But the real reason why everyone has questioned and disliked and avoided the Millennials isn’t because they’re Millennials – it’s because they are the personification of change. And let’s be brutally honest. Change is a concept that few people can accept, much less embrace.

If we dig deep, we will recognize that people don’t dis on the Millennials because they are Millennials, as much as they dis on what they represent. After all, this generation is the first generation of the Post-Industrial Era. The first generation of the 21st century, fueled by innovation and designed to disrupt.

The Millennials came of age during the most disruptive decade in history—an era riddled by terrorism, recession, rapidly changing technology, and the end of work and life as we know it. These are radical transitions, and people have wanted someone to blame.

I’m not telling you this to be grim. I’m telling you this because until we can accept that we’ve transitioned into a new era, and rebuild our organizations accordingly, we will continue to experience gaps in employee engagement and membership engagement.

What we’re experiencing right now is not just a generation gap. It’s bigger than that. It’s an ever-widening gap between Industrial Era 20th-century workplaces and a post-Industrial 21st century workforce.

Does your organization have an engagement gap? Take this quick quiz to find out:

Our workforce/members/volunteers know our organization’s purpose and why their participation matters.

o True

o False

Younger people are frequently invited to share their opinions and ideas with the leadership team.

o True

o False

We think and act fast as an organization.

o True

o False

We allow employees time off for volunteering.

o True

o False

We offer tuition reimbursement and scholarships to young people.

o True

o False

Most people would describe our organization as happy, welcoming, and fun.

o True

o False

Our leadership team actively uses social media.

o True

o False

Most people would describe our leaders as innovative and inspiring.

o True

o False

Most people would describe our leaders as honest and trustworthy.

o True

o False

We spend more time thinking about the future than the present or the past.

o True

o False


If you answered false to any of the questions above, that likely represents a gap hindering your organization’s ability to engage young talent.

Unfortunately, employee engagement and profitability have been declining since 1965. For more than 50 years the warning signs were there. We just didn’t want to see them.

Why is this happening?

Because many of our institutions were designed for the 20th century, and they are unable to cope with the mounting pressures of constant change. Most organizations are still structured to maximize efficiency by way of clearly defined roles, which automatically creates resistance to any variance.

Now we’ve moved into the 21st century—the Talent Economy. And today’s creative, passionate workers certainly don’t want to work in Industrial-Era organizations with clearly defined roles, organizational silos, top-down management, or predictability.

As a result our leadership is ageing, our management practices are failing, and the gap between executive-level and entry-level talent has continued to widen.

But there is a solution.

The first step is to ask the right question. Stop asking why Millennials are so difficult to work with and start asking: Are we doing everything we can to engage and empower every member of our team? Are we future-ready? What are we doing to ensure we stay relevant to this generation and the generations to come?

It is then, and only then, that we can begin to bridge the gap and solve the workforce crisis.