Employers can support a multigenerational workforce by understanding each generations’ needs and offering flexibility and empathetic leadership, says Darryl Wright, a partner at Ernst & Young Canada.

An October 2023 survey by EY found a quarter of Canadian employees were likely to quit their job in the next 12 months, with generation Z and millennials the most likely to leave. The survey also found a disconnect between employee and employer expectations when it comes to attraction and retention.

“I think the big disconnect is around propensity to leave and employers not necessarily appreciating the significant impact of generational differences and how they’re playing out in employees’ choices to leave,” says Wright. “Coming out of the pandemic, the consistent theme in our surveys regarding the future of work is that flexibility is the new norm, and it’s the primary ask of gen Zs and millennials.”

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Wright notes a shift in flexibility doesn’t mean conceding performance, productivity and culture; instead, it means employers have to adapt and create a different work environment. “I think some organizations are falling short because . . . they’re not appreciating that their workforce is highly segmented, way more than it was pre-pandemic, and generational issues add even more variables. We’ve noticed the sentiment around, ‘gen-Zers and millennials are lazy, [too focused on] work-life balance and I think that’s far from the truth if you follow the data.”

Recognition and an inclusive environment are among millennials’ top workplace priorities, he says, noting gen-Zers are also looking for a highly inclusive environment and social purpose, whereas generation X and baby boomers are more likely to accept the state of their workplace’s culture and roll with the punches.

“The younger generations seek transparency; they want trust and openness and they want flexibility. But in my experience, gen Z and millennials are still very hardworking [when given that flexibility]. They’re also the ones rallying everyone to go for drinks after work or do social activities and this sometimes highlights boomers’ and gen-Xers’ reluctance to lean into those activities.”

Read: 2021 Mental Health Summit: Promoting mental health among all five generations in the workplace

As soon as employers understand the different generational needs, they can start shaping their attraction and retention plans around them in order to support a multigenerational workforce. “If you look at the benefits side, total rewards has been redefined. You don’t just measure it in the financial components — it’s also emotional, spiritual and physical. So many organizations are investing in those aspects because gen-Zers and millennials value it more. Boomers and gen-Xers likely want more financial stability so they would focus on that area of total rewards. I think the minute employers understand the indicators for different generations, they can start planning around these different hooks.”

In addition, he notes empathetic leadership and creating psychological safety and a trusted environment are critical to retaining gen Z and millennial workers.

Read: Employers expect to offer wider variety of benefits for different generations: report