Barriers to Engagement at the Workplace

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The barriers to workplace engagement among millennial and older employees at the workplace were evaluated in the present research paper. Besides, the barriers unique to each generation were compared and contrasted because each of the generations had its own set of personality traits and worldviews. Millennial employees comprised of employees born between 1982 and the start of the new millennia (PWC, 2013). The older employees, in this case, belong to the X and baby boomers generations.

Current statistics indicated that by 2020, at least half of the global workforce would be made of the millennials (generation Y) (PWC, 2013). At least 34 percent of the national workforce in the US will be made of millennials in 2024 (US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015). Presently, there were over 80 million millennials in the US workforce (Stefanik & Messer, 2016). According to Forbes, a majority of the employers had difficulties in managing the millennial employees due to the unique worldviews of the generation. For instance, workers in this category preferred rewarding careers in place of higher pay and were drawn to challenging but rewarding workplace engagements (Andersen, 2016).

The levels of disengagement were standard across the different generations. In 2014, a Gallup poll noted that only 13 percent of the global workforce was substantially engaged at the workplace (Reilly, 2014). Work engagement was characterized by an absolute commitment by the employee towards the execution of the assigned responsibilities and the attainment of the organizational goals (Crawford, Lepine, & Rich, 2010). The barriers to workplace engagement in each of the generations were attributed to the variations in personality traits that in turn influenced their worldviews (Wong, Gardiner, Lang, & Coulon, 2008).

Literature Review

Multiple barriers impeded the engagement of the employees at the workplace including the inability of the employer to satisfy the emotional demands of the employees, the absence of the person-job fit, disregard by the management and lack of flexibility. Besides, the engagement was compromised by the absence of fun activities, excessive workplace demands, corporate social responsibility, and a mismatch between the values of the organization and those of the employee.

The need to focus on work engagement was informed by the benefits associated with employee commitment to the organization. For instance, engagement reduced work-related errors, employee absenteeism, while at the same time it improved the rate of employee retention and organizational productivity because the employees were wholly committed to the employer (Fernandez, 2009). The negative emotions associated with disengagement were considered as detrimental to the success of the organization because widespread disengagement could adversely impact the committed employees (Heikkeri, 2010). Thus, for corporations to remain competitive, they had to retain and attract new and dynamic talent (Eversole, Venneberg, & Crowder, 2012). Enhancing employee engagement was considered a critical determinant of the rate of employee turnover.

Barriers to Workplace Engagement

A study by Crawford et al., (2010) noted that workplace disengagement was highly prevalent if the organization did not provide the prerequisite resources required for the execution of specific tasks. Other factors that contributed to the withdrawal included high job demands that caused the employees to experience burnout. The workplace demands, in this case, included both social and physical aspects of job responsibilities that necessitated the employee to commit physical and mental resources (Crawford et al., 2010).

Barriers to Workplace Engagement among Older Employees

Older employees at the workplace belonging to the baby boomer and the generation X exhibited engagement if the employer was able to provide adequate remuneration, opportunities for career growth, stable workplace conditions and job security (Wong et al., 2008). Therefore, barriers to job security among older employees included the absence of job security, adequate remuneration, and a stable workplace. The variations in intergenerational worldviews contributed to the diversity of the barriers to workplace engagement. Ertas (2015) hypothesized that the period in which one was born determined his or her approach to critical issues in life including workplace commitment. For instance, the formative years of the millennials were defined by the availability of computing devices and the adoption of civil liberties (Wesner & Miller, 2008). The view was justified because majorities of the baby boomers were naturally self-driven, optimistic, and idealistic. The generation was also considered to exhibit unparalleled diligence in the execution of workplace responsibilities.

Employees in the generation X category were considered individualistic, pessimistic, and cynical. In contrast to the baby boomers, the Xers did not resist change. A notable shortcoming of this generation was that they were less loyal to authority (Wong et al., 2008). Other driving factors to workplace engagement among the generation X employees included better workplace benefits, salaries, and challenging workplace responsibilities. Moreover, higher autonomy and a higher locus of control augmented work engagement in this generation. Nonetheless, sometimes it was difficult to ascertain the barriers to employee engagement among employees in the X generation given that their profiles were similar to the millennials and the baby boomers (Wong et al., 2008).

The pessimistic attitudes observed among generation X employees were not shared by the millennials who were considered optimistic. The pessimism among the Xers was an indication that there was a higher probability for the employees in this generation to show lack of commitment (disengagement). Such behaviors were guided by the prevailing misconceptions including the understanding that the labor market did not provide ample job security. Therefore, there was no need for the employees to sacrifice or go an extra mile in executing their workplace responsibilities (Fernandez, 2009).

Employees were less engaged and less willing to buy-in to the corporate vision if the management did not treat them as valued partners in the organization. Thus, mistreatment of employees was considered as an impediment to engagement. Such barriers could be resolved through equal treatment of the employees and decentralization of responsibilities (Smith, Peters, & Caldwell, 2016). Devolution of responsibilities would help to address the impediments that were attributed to status barriers. Besides, the above proposition would facilitate the attainment of employee stewardship, which was considered the highest form of employee engagement. Stewardship was characterized by the ability of the employee to work in the best interest of the organization; it facilitated continuous improvement, innovation, creativity and wealth creation (Smith et al., 2016).

Barriers to Workplace Engagement among Millennials

Considering that millennials were the younger generation in the workforce most of their workplace needs were misconstrued by the earlier generations. Nonetheless, the barriers to millennial employee commitment included lack of engagement from their superiors and an organizational vision that did make a direct and tangible contribution to the society through CSR or other strategies (Benson, 2016). Besides, millennials were keen to sustain a work-life balance. Therefore, to enhance engagement among millennials companies were required to cultivate compelling beliefs that could appeal to the sensibilities of the millennials (Benson, 2016). Additionally, it was imperative for the senior managers to interact with the millennial employees on an individual basis given that most of them were unwilling to work in an environment where the management did not appreciate their contributions. The political establishment also acknowledged the need to engage millennial employees - the GOP policy brief highlighted approaches for engaging millennials (Stefanik & Messer, 2016).

Another fundamental factor that contributed to minimal levels of engagement among millennials was the absence of fun-related activities in the workplace. The incorporation of fun activities at the workplace was positively associated with a higher prevalence of workplace embeddedness, job satisfaction among the employees, lesser stress and turnover (Tews, Michel, Xu, Drost, & Tews, 2015). Some of the fun activities that enhanced millennial engagement included socialization with coworkers, social events, and the transformation of the workplace into a fun environment. The success of fun related activities in augmenting employee engagement in companies such as Guinness and Cadbury (Bolton & Houlihan, 2009) affirmed that fun related activities had the potential to enhance engagement across different generations. In particular, the two companies had introduced family sports events and picnics as the primary fun activities (Bolton & Houlihan, 2009).

Impact of Resources on Engagement

Despite the fact that each of the generations had its own unique set of expectations, it was noted that there were commonalities. For instance, millennials and older employees required ample resources to implement their work tasks. The absence of such resources was correlated with a decline in the level of engagement among the employees. According to Xanthopoulou, Bakker, and Fischbach (2013), the availability of sufficient resources contributed to workplace engagement through the boosting and buffering effect. In particular, the buffering effect enhanced engagement by helping the organization’s human resources to deal with challenging situations. Therefore, the provision of the necessary resources provided a buffer especially when the employee had limited control over the external variables. Additionally, the provision of adequate workplace resources augmented the motivation of the employees when they were exposed to demanding conditions; the above associations were significant especially among employees with responsibilities that required high levels of emotional commitment (Xanthopoulou et al., 2013).


The information presented in the preceding subsections indicted that there were common and different barriers to employee engagement in each of the generations. However, some of the barriers to employee engagement were unique to each generation.


Millennials, Xers, and the baby boomers required flexible jobs and adequate resources to execute their duties. Therefore, the inability of the employer to provide the requirements as mentioned above resulted in higher disengagement. Similar factors inhibited productivity among employees in the X and millennial generations; for instance, both desired to work for organizations that did not compromise their work-life balance failure to which the employees showed signs of disengaged. Other barriers to employee engagement that were common across the generations included an imbalance between the efforts and rewards (Kinman & Jones, 2008); it was common for the employees to become disengaged if they perceived that their efforts were not adequately recompensed. Such behaviors were attributed to the psychological contract breach – which was manifested when there was no reciprocity and fairness in rewards (Kinman & Jones, 2008). According to the effort-reward model, an imbalance between the two variables triggered work-life conflict and psychological stress (Siegrist & Li, 2016; Kinman & Jones, 2008), which in turn resulted in workplace disengagement.


Despite the shared barriers to employee engagement, there were marked variations in each generation. Some of the variations included the fact that baby boomers required a stable working environment and job security – the inability by the manager to satisfy these requirements resulted in higher disengagement. In contrast, millennials preferred jobs that were socially responsible; therefore, job security and tenure were secondary. Moreover, the baby boomer generation was concerned about hierarchies and job titles while millennials were concerned about career growth and work-life balance (Imperatori, 2017). The absence of opportunities for career growth was a barrier to millennial engagement.


Upon consideration of the barriers to workplace engagement among millennials and older generation employees, various suggestions were highlighted. The first recommendation was that employers should focus on eliminating the barriers to workplace engagement among the millennial employees. The proposal was informed by the fact that the older generations were gradually attaining the retirement age while the ratio of the millennials to the entire workforce was bound to increase. In specific, it was projected that the remaining baby boomers would retire between 2028 and 2031 (NASI, 2018). Therefore, it was imperative for employers to adopt a futuristic approach to human resources.

The second recommendation was that employers should adopt human resource policies that were proven effective in improving workplace engagement among millennials. Such HR policies include providing flexible working hours and leadership development programs. The leadership development programs provided an avenue through which the management could directly engage the millennial employees. Besides, the leadership development programs could either assume a vertical development approach, action learning or deliberative strategy (Metcalf, 2017).

In addition to workplace engagement, Meister and Willyerd (2010) observed that organizations could eliminate the intergenerational barriers to workplace engagement through the employment of customized approaches that were appropriate for each of the generations. For instance, employers could improve work engagement among baby boomers by appreciating their extensive experience and incorporating their contributions in future planning (Meister & Willyerd, 2010). Additionally, the organization could improve the level of engagement among Xers by providing customized benefits that appealed to their sense of pessimism. The specific benefits should include rewards and flexible working hours.

The third recommendation was that corporations should create opportunities for professional growth among the millennials especially because career stagnation unsettled most of the millennials. The fourth suggestion was that companies should develop flexible workplace cultures (Eversole et al., 2012). The proposal was primarily informed by the fact that each of the three dominant generations at the workplace shared a common characteristic namely the need for workplace flexibility. Such a culture would enable managers to enhance workplace productivity without the need to exert power and control over the junior employees who were mainly from the millennial generation (Eversole et al., 2012).

The final recommendation was that employers should initiate corporate social responsibility initiatives given that CSR was associated with higher employee engagement. The view was supported by Tariq (2015) who observed that there was a positive association between workplace engagement and CSR. Specifically, CSR mediated engagement because socially responsible organizations had better working environments and ethical practices that appealed to millennial employees. Besides, CSR improved engagement because employees executed tasks that had a direct impact on society (Tariq, 2015) – it was common for employees to be engaged when their duties had a high impact on the community.

However, it was postulated that the generational diversity impeded the implementation of the highlighted recommendations at the workplace that was bound to remain static over the next ten years. Besides, it was capital intensive to meet all requirement that was unique to each generation.


The research paper presented an in-depth review of the factors that contributed to employee engagement and the barriers to employee commitment. Based on the literature sources cited, it was established that there were intergenerational similarities and variations in the barriers to employee engagement. One of the similarities was that employees from the three generations valued flexibility at the workplace and the provision of adequate resources to facilitate the execution of workplace responsibilities. In contrast, there were significant dissimilarities. For instance, the work-life imbalance was a barrier to engagement among millennials and generation Xers. The absence of appropriate remuneration packages impeded the workplace commitment among the baby boomers. Considering that the millennial population was on the rise and a majority of the baby boomers were gradually attaining the retirement age, it was recommended that employers should adopt HR policies that were in in line with the personality traits, worldviews, and intrinsic expectations of the millennial employees. Such an approach would improve the rate of workplace engagement, and in turn, business productivity. The creation of opportunities for personal growth and adoption of CSR initiatives were considered as enabling factors that improved workplace commitment.


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January 19, 2024
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