HR Toolkit

Diversity at Work

Generational Differences in the Workplace

To keep good employees, you must meet their needs and expectations, and understand what keeps them inspired. Employees' needs and expectation vary from one person to the next. They also vary depending on a variety of factors including the generation of the workers. At this particular moment, there are several different generations - all with different worldviews, expectations and needs - in our workplaces.

The nonprofit workforce includes many baby boomers who are nearing retirement and this generation will need to be replaced by younger workers. In the 2003 report Job Quality in Non-Profit Organizations, Kathryn McMullen and Grant Schellenberg found that only 25% of nonprofit employees are under the age of 35, compared to 37% in the for-profit sector. Furthermore, post-secondary graduates, a group especially sought after in the knowledge-based economy, occupy 58% of nonprofit jobs, compared to 44% of for-profit jobs.



Young Employees


Attracting the next generation of nonprofit employees

If organizations want to survive they will have to learn how to attract and keep the next generation of employees. For this reason, The HR Council held two focus groups with young people to find out what voluntary organizations could learn about recruiting top talent from this age group. The first session, held in Montreal, included young business students & graduates who had had internships in non-profits with Community Experiences Initiative. The second group, in Halifax, pulled together young people working full-time in the sector. Two reports were produced with the specific highlights from each session.


Good Practice


Common highlights from the reports

When asked to describe the most important experience or aspect of their work in a voluntary organization, two common themes emerged:

  • Young people valued the opportunity to be connected with the impact of the work that they were involved in. Even if they worked in an office and didn't have regular contact with outcomes, when they were given a chance to see the impact it often left a lasting and meaningful impression.


Good Practice

Make sure to create opportunities for young people to feel this kind of connection to the impact of their work. Organize site visits, or let employees spend a day with front-line staff, send workers to a meeting with clients/ constituents so they understand the realities of their lives - and any other creative opportunity you can come up with.


  • Young people also valued the opportunity to work with a diversity of people, of cultures, ideas, perspectives, backgrounds, identities etc... They enjoyed the chance to experience human connections across difference in the organizations they worked with.


Good Practice

Work to create organizations that are inclusive and open to diversity. Create an environment that encourages and promotes difference and healthy opportunities to build meaningful connections across difference. Steer away from prescribing a certain way of acting or "doing business."


Most challenging experiences

When asked about the not-so-positive aspects of their experiences, two themes emerged which frustrated the participants:

  • Organizations showed a lack of human resources structure and good people management skills.
  • Many organizations had a "chaotic" environment with a lack of structure that created confusion and didn't support the work that needed to get done.


Good Practice

Create clear strategic and operational plans for your work. Make sure to include human resources planning in this process - make sure you have the right, and enough, human resources to accomplish your goals. Ensure that each employee has up to date job descriptions and ask them to develop work plans. Implement an effective performance management system and create regular opportunities for feedback and monitoring.


Characteristics of an ideal job

When the participants were asked to describe the most important aspects of their ideal job, they came up with the following common factors (in random order):

  • Challenging work
  • A variety of work
  • An environment that fosters a spirit of creativity and innovation
  • Recognition and reward for high performance
  • Flexibility (in work schedules)
  • Opportunities for advancement
  • Mentoring opportunities
  • Organizational values that align with personal values
  • An environment that involved a diversity of people
  • Good pay (this was not mentioned first at either meeting)
  • A good benefits plan and retirement benefits plan
  • Job security
  • The ability to balance personal and professional lives

Can your organization check off all of these characteristics? Do you market these when looking to recruit new employees into your organization? Is there more that you can do to offer these in your workplace?


Mid-career employees

Good retention practices

Employees who have been with an organization for more than four or five years may become bored or entrenched in their beliefs. In order to retain good employees, enable them to become even better, and to ensure the health of your organization and maintain its ability to change:

  • Ensure that mid-range employees are involved in setting the direction and strategic plan for your organization
  • Ensure that their jobs are based on the plans of the organization and that the employee can see the results of their work
  • Ensure that they get a good performance review at least every six months and that you listen to, and act on, their ideas, suggestions and concerns
  • Ensure that they are continually learning and enhancing their skills
  • Ensure that you talk with them about career planning
  • Encourage experienced employees to mentor newer staff, volunteers, or, if appropriate, board members


Older employees

Good retention practices

In addition to the retention practices outlined for mid-career employees, your organization may need to ensure that the following options are available for all staff:

  • Flexible work (flexi-time or flexible work location)
  • Good pension or retirement plans
  • A healthy environment that meets their occupational needs
  • Additional training on new technologies



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