Today’s workforce has more generational diversity than it has in decades, and this applies across all industries and specialties. In drilling, we see a dynamic mix of baby boomer, Generation X, millennial and Generation Z employees. This generationally diverse workforce makeup requires managers to shift and tailor their leadership style in order to motivate and engage employees.

In today’s article, we look at how leaders effectively empower and motivate employees in each generational group, keeping in mind the unique environment in which our drilling crews operate.

Baby Boomers

While there isn’t much information about the generational makeup of the drilling workforce, it’s safe to say that boomers make up a small percentage of it. In fact, at Cascade this group makes up approximately 7% of our workforce. However, that small percentage of employees holds a wealth of knowledge and experience. Leaders can keep boomers engaged and motivated by providing ample opportunities for them to mentor, coach and develop the next generation of drillers.

How can you tailor your leadership style to this group? Baby boomers value loyalty and are among the least likely of these groups to leave the organization. However, as they prepare for retirement, they also look for more flexibility in their work. Get creative with scheduling and provide more reasonable travel rotations. This group of employees also needs to feel like their knowledge, experience, skills and contributions to the field still matter and have value. You can help meet this need by exploring and fully utilizing your company’s reward and recognition programs.

Generation X

In the next bracket, we have Generation X employees. Using my company’s statistics again, this group makes up most of our workforce at approximately 43%. Suffice it to say, we consider it critical to recruitment and retention efforts that we create a culture where these employees can thrive. So, what does that take from us as leaders?

These employees seek autonomous environments where they feel trusted and challenged. They also value flexible scheduling and work-life balance, which creates a unique challenge in a drilling industry where overtime and traveling are the norm.

Gen Xers have a fundamental need to move up their career ladders. Having visible career progression can prove an effective way to motivate and foster engagement with this group of employees. Simply telling an assistant driller that the right skills and enough experience can earn them a promotion isn’t going to cut it. These employees seek autonomous environments where they feel trusted and challenged. They also value flexible scheduling and work-life balance, which creates a unique challenge in a drilling industry where overtime and traveling are the norm. That doesn’t make it impossible for drilling companies to meet the needs of Gen X employees, but it does require creativity and outside-the-box approaches.


Millennials (sometimes called Generation Y) also make up a great deal of the workforce in the drilling industry. At Cascade, millennials account for roughly 36% of employees. We all hear the stereotypes of these employees as “job hoppers” or disloyal to their employers. However, recent studies show that this group has no more or less loyalty to their employers than other generations at a younger age.

While we do see the trend of high turnover among millennials play out at Cascade and throughout the drilling industry, there are potential reasons for this. Millennials want challenge and to seek out opportunities where they can learn and grow. They want a push outside their comfort zone, but only if that step means a clear and direct path to career advancement. Repetitive tasks (perhaps like continuously pushing casing and rods into the ground) can be daunting and boring for these employees. While we can’t change the nature of the drilling job, we can think about how we design the job of an assistant driller and find ways to make it more challenging and intriguing.

Generation Z

Relying again on my company’s statistics, Gen Z employees make up approximately 14% of our workforce. Like millennials, some consistent biases and stereotypes follow Generation Z employees: disloyal to their employer, addicted to their mobile phones and needing instant gratification. However, leaders can take specific actions to appeal to this group and empower them to become the next great generation of drillers.

Giving these employees a sense of purpose has immense value. Gen Zers want to see the big picture. They want immersion in the vision of the company and they thrive when their individual passions align with their work. One of the greatest (and perhaps easiest) ways we can do this within the drilling industry involves consistently highlighting connections between the work we do in the field and the impact it has on the environment. Like millennials, Gen Zers value growth and career development and like to ask questions that challenge the status quo.

While there is no perfect method for tailoring our leadership style to each generation in the workforce, having a base-level awareness of these differences can prove tremendously helpful. Equally important, as leaders we must be aware of any preconceived notions or biases we believe about groups of employees, as these can sometimes influence our behaviors and attitudes toward those employees in a negative way. Having an awareness of generational differences and a willingness to be flexible with how we lead and engage our employees is key.