Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials all want VERY different things at work

May 22 2019, 1:05 am

A new study surveying Canadian employees is calling for employers to work harder to keep their staff motivated, after finding notable generational differences in employee satisfaction.

The study, commissioned by office supply company, Hamster, and conducted by the market research firm, Léger, finds that baby boomers, who are now all over 55, are the most satisfied and motivated employees in the workforce, and also the most committed to their jobs.

Alternatively, Generation X (35 to 54), are not only the least motivated, but also over-represented among those dissatisfied with their work. As well, Millennials (34 and under) are found to be least loyal to their employers—more than half would consider switching jobs after a couple of years or move to self-employment.

“All sectors in Canada are facing significant challenges in talent acquisition and retention,” said Denis Mathieu, president and CEO of Novexco Inc., the parent company of Hamster, in a statement.

“Employees are the most important resource for the company, and we believe it is essential to fully understand their aspirations and needs to better meet them in order to have a competitive advantage.”

According to Dr. Sean Lyons, a professor at the University of Guelph who researches generational differences in the workplace, a reason for the varying levels of satisfaction is that new generations have been reacting to workplace expectations set by baby boomers.

“Boomers grew up in an era of economic expansion and growth, so they really came to expect growth and year-after-year increases as the norm,” Lyons told Daily Hive, over email.

Lyons’ research is consistent with Hamster’s study—he explained that Generation X, who faced economic challenges while trying to establish themselves in the early to mid-90s, are generally “more reserved with their expectations and more disappointed with how they’ve fared to boomers.”

Millennials, on the other hand, have high expectations for pay and promotion, likely, he says, because they expect the same high standard of living set by their parents.

Because boomers are beginning to retire, and newer generations are quickly becoming the predominant cohort in the workforce, Hamster’s findings highlight a need for employers to adapt to the evolving motivating factors of today’s generation of employees.

Personal Achievement

Lyons notes that Gen Xers and Millennials are motivated by much of the same thing all generations are: equitable pay, good benefits, job security, flexibility, and interesting work.

But his advice to employers to keep these generations driven is to promote constant development and growth.

“It’s really important to engage and retain these generations moving forward to create stability and to plan for succession when the boomers fully leave.”

Lyons added that modern workforces desire to remain competitive and up-to-date, and so allowing them to consistently learn and do new things is important, and a major factor of job security.

Like Lyons, Hamster’s study uncovered a similar idea, and found personal achievement to be one of the most important motivations for employees of all generations.

Increasing focus on workplace wellness

The study found an increasing desire for workplace wellness services among younger employees.

More than any other age group, millennials, who are 35 and under, believe that employers should provide professional services like psychologists, occupational therapists, massage therapists, and even nutritionists.

Lyons explained that this attitude is evolving in contrast to previous mindsets, which saw any employee benefit as a bonus.

“Millennials are more likely to view their jobs as an exchange where benefits and services are an entitlement, rather than as a relationship,” he said.

Michelle Johnston, founder and CEO of WorkingWell, a Canadian workplace wellness service provider, says that a focus on wellness in the workplace has increased in her company’s 15 years, and not just among younger companies.

“It’s definitely growing, and it’s becoming more strategic in nature,” she said in an interview. “Organizations realize that there is so much potential for burnout, and by providing a wellness program, they can get ahead of or in front of any potential production or productivity blips.”

Johnston said that a really good company will invest in their employees well-being, whether via a benefits package, pension plan or wellness offering. This will help to both attract and retain employees.

“An on-going [wellness] strategy, I think, is really successful in being able to demonstrate to staff that companies do have their back,” she said.

With that in mind, though, Johnston stressed that different industrial sectors will want different things, and it’s important to tailor the service accordingly.

Communication as a first step

The study did find certain expectations to be consistent across the board—aspects like environmental consciousness and comfortable work environments are becoming increasingly important—but when it comes to generation-specific expectations, it’s important to remember that there is no one-size fits all solution to employee satisfaction.

Before anything, experts say that the first step is solid communication.

Sharon Kolodychuk is a consulting services manager for Salopek & Associates Ltd., a human resources consulting firm. She said that she has facilitated communication training in HR departments of many Canadian companies, and it’s essential for employers to work together with all generations, and really allow them to articulate what their expectations are.

“You can’t be effective in your job if you don’t know how to communicate with your workmates,” she said in an interview with Daily Hive.

That communication is especially true with Millennials, who Kolodychuk said want to be communicated with “on a constant and regular basis.”

According to Dr. Lyons, communication also allows an employer to avoid generalizing a specific generation’s expectations, generalizations that break down when taking into account identity and societal factors like culture, gender, background, economic status, among others.

“There’s really no magic bullet that’s going to attract, engage and retain one generation or another,” Lyons told Daily Hive.

“If I have advice for employers in 2019 it’s to get to know who your employees are as people and what their specific needs and wants are, and keep asking. The answers are critically important to making evidence-informed HR decisions, but the very act of asking is meaningful and critical to relationship building.

“Don’t look outward for these answers, look inward.”

Ben BarakBen Barak

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