When you hear the word sage, what comes to mind: a wizened leader with long, flowing hair and a staff? Jerry Garcia in a psychedelic shirt and sandals, blissfully strumming his guitar? Or perhaps a velvet-leafed herb that works well in stuffing?

Maybe it’s the guy sitting in the office next to you.

Based on an SMS Research Advisors survey commissioned by Padilla, a sage is an employee who has been at your company for 11 or more years. While that sage might have several characteristics in common with his colleagues who are tenured (8-10 years), sophomore (4-7 years) or newbie (3 years or less), there likely are motivational differences as well.

It pays to understand those differences and use them to engage your sage employees. The financial benefits of having a highly engaged workforce are well documented. And while it’s widely known that employees of different ages want different things in the workplace, employees at different career stages want different things, too.

So what engages sages? Well, I can tell you – since I’ve been at Padilla for nearly 17 (yikes!) years, I am one. Here’s some advice for engaging the sages in your workplace based on our Engage by Stage research.

  • Let us run. At 63 percent, the ability to take on a project and run with it, and to feel pride at having done it well, is the top motivator for sages. At this point in our careers, most of us don’t need a lot of direction – or a lot of praise. We’ll do the job well because we know we can, and because we just plain love being good at our job.
  • Challenge us. Fifty-eight percent of Sages are motivated by a challenge. We want to take on something that’s a bit of a stretch just to prove to ourselves that we can do it. Ask us to move beyond our comfort zone, perhaps by leading a different group of people or taking on a project that normally would go to another department. We’ll be up for the challenge.
  • Let us leave a legacy. Nothing motivates 54 percent of us more than the opportunity to contribute to our company’s overall mission or goals. We’ve invested a lot of our time in the company, and we need to feel we have a part in its success. We’ve been with the company through numerous changes – so ask us to help bring others along during restructuring, mergers, acquisitions and other changes. It makes us feel needed and keeps us highly engaged.
  • Teach us something new. Contrary to popular belief, sages aren’t content to sit back and coast. We want to keep learning, whether it’s how to use new technology, learn new skills or uncover where our industry is heading. Try pairing us with newer – and often younger – employees, and let us teach each other. For 51 percent of us, the opportunity to continue to learn is our key motivator.
    Contrary to popular belief, sages aren’t content to sit back and coast. Click To Tweet

Now that you know what motivates us, what concerns sages? Well, our greatest challenges at this stage are saving for retirement (52%) and funding the life priorities we’ve identified (44%), whether that is buying a house, saving for our children’s college or travelling the world. While we don’t need a lot of praise for our work, we do appreciate programs and tools that help us increase salary and savings.

At the end of the day, we sages want to put our knowledge and experience to use, and keep learning ourselves, so we can help the company reach its goals. We’re proud of our organization and of our contributions to it – that’s why we’ve chosen to stay.

How are you engaging the sages in your workplace?