What They Want: A Generational View

March 12, 2008
We keep hearing that all you need to do to retain younger employees is give them more money, and that older employees are easy to retain because they have everything they want. But our research showed that those stereotypes arenít accurate; employees of all ages are motivated by the same factors at work.

Employees of all ages said that they were more committed when they had a job where they: could learn and develop; had the chance to advance; had the opportunity for new experiences; got the respect and recognition they believe they deserve; received the support to do their jobs well; and received the resources they need to get the job done.
Beyond the specifics of the job, employees of all ages said that they were more likely to be committed employees when they agreed with the companyís values, when work did not encroach too much on home life, when there was good communication within the organization and when they felt well-compensated.

The primary differences among the five generations in the workplace are about the importance that they place on each of these motivating factors:

The Silents (born 1925-1945) said what keeps them committed and motivated is the opportunity to continue to learn, challenging and interesting work, respect and recognition, and appropriate compensation. People from this generation are not interested in sitting around and stagnating; they find it motivating to keep learning and being challenged.

When it comes to retaining and motivating them, Early Boomers (born 1946-1954) are primarily interested in learning, development and challenge in their jobs. Being later in their careers, many Early Boomers feel energized by new challenges, and want new opportunities. Like the Silents, Early Boomers want respect, recognition, advancement and good compensation, but they arenít as focused on advancement as younger employees are. And they definitely donít want to stagnate while they are waiting to retire; they want to have an impact and to learn.

Late Boomers (born 1955-1963) are primarily motivated by learning, development, advancement and opportunity. To retain and motivate Late Boomers, organizations should focus on providing substantial development, making sure the employee is challenged and interested in the work, and helping the employee to negotiate the advancement maze within the organization. Appropriate compensation is also important.

Early Xers (born 1964-1976) are motivated and retained by the same factors as Late Boomers; they want opportunities to learn, develop, advance, be recognized, earn competitive salary, and are especially motivated if they enjoy their work at the same time. Early Xers like continuous learning and dislike the feeling of running in place so much that they become less motivated, and are likely to start looking for another job if they feel as if they aren't getting anywhere.

Late Xers (born 1977-1982) are the younger part of Generation X. They are motivated by the opportunity to learn and develop, they want to receive progressively more challenging assignments, and they want the opportunity to advance within the organization. At the same time, they want organizations to reward good work more than seniority, and want their new and fresh ideas to be paid attention to.

Though many people talk about enormous differences between the values of older and younger workers, the Center for Creative Leadershipís research shows that you can motivate and retain employees of all ages by focusing on respect and recognition, learning and development, opportunity to advance, good compensation and good quality of life outside of work.

Jennifer Deal, [email protected], is a research scientist at the Center for Creative Leadership, in Greensboro, N.C., and the author of ìRetiring the Generation Gap: How Employees Young & Old Can Find Common Ground.

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