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Differences in employee motivation among baby boomers, Generation X, Millennials and Generation Z

Are you a manager and want to know how to stimulate your team on a Monday morning? Or are you a member of a team yourself and would like to take a closer look at what is important to you in your work environment or how you can best work together with others?

Regardless of your personal situation, we all bring individual characteristics and preferences to our workplace. Understanding these differences better can be a huge benefit.

Our values ​​are influenced by various factors, such as our previous experience, our goals and our function in the company. Another aspect that we should definitely not underestimate is our age.

Indeed! Many experts assume that our individual view of work, and in particular the way in which we motivate ourselves for it, are generation-dependent.

This poses a challenge for companies, especially when you consider that in many offices up to five generations work together under one roof. In this post, we cover a number of motivational differences between four of the most common generations: Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y, and Generation Z.

But first a few words about stereotypes ...

Employee motivation is the subject of numerous theories, and it is all too easy to fall into the error that these are general rules. Anyone belonging to a certain generation fits exactly into the appropriate drawer. Correct?

In reality, we all know that this is not the case. While the following information is the result of research, keep in mind that these are generalizations. They are based on statistics, surveys and expert opinions and can therefore only serve to a limited extent as an orientation for which values ​​and beliefs individual people actually bring with them.

So if you're Gen X, but more likely to identify with Millennials, that's absolutely fine. The perspective applied here is necessarily undifferentiated, and individual deviations are inevitable.

Before you can check for yourself which generational characteristics you recognize in yourself (and which you don't!), You need to determine which group you belong to. These are the age limits for the four generations we are talking about:

  • Baby boomers: born between 1946 and 1964
  • Generation X: born between 1965 and 1980
  • Generation Y (Millennials): born between 1981 and 1996
  • Generation Z: born between 1997 and 2012

Keep in mind that drawing the line between generations is not an exact science and can vary somewhat depending on the study and source. For now, however, these time spans should allow you to roughly classify yourself.

What motivates baby boomers?

Employee motivation in one word: flexibility

When it comes to employee motivation, it is often said that the generation with the greatest need for flexibility are millennials. In reality, however, it is the baby boomers who want the greatest freedom in this regard.

In a survey by the Harvard Business Review, 87 percent of baby boomers said they value flexibility in the workplace. The reason is that this generation has already built a life outside of the professional environment. The same survey found that 71 percent of baby boomers have to reconcile the needs of members of different generations in everyday life. After all, 55 percent volunteer for the environment, culture, education or other issues.

These circumstances are forcing employers to find ways to motivate members of the baby boomer generation and retain them longer with the company.

A study by the LIMRA Secure Retirement Institute came to the conclusion that 92 percent of employers take measures to keep employees longer. Flexibility is an essential part of this retention strategy: Two thirds of the companies surveyed stated that they allow flexible working hours.

What motivates Generation X?

Employee motivation in one word: autonomy

Many children of this generation grew up as key children. While both parents were working, they were usually left unsupervised after school. The result is that many of them are comparatively independent.

Generation X members are resourceful, independent, and hardworking. Anyone who wants to encourage their motivation should by no means practice micromanagement, because a high degree of control acts like suspicion on them - as if their abilities were being questioned.

"Members of Generation X need autonomy and freedom in the workplace," said a conference contribution from the Project Management Institute. “They expect room for maneuver and the opportunity to experiment in order to improve their work processes. Micromanagement scares them off. "

Of course, members of this generation are aware that instructions are necessary to a certain extent. However, they are most motivated when they have freedom and are trusted to implement these instructions in their own individual way.

What motivates millennials?

Employee motivation in one word: development

Millennials are often described as spoiled and lazy - but their real demands on their workplace clearly contradict this stereotype.

Compared to other generations, millennials are primarily characterized by their pursuit of growth and development opportunities. Vocational training and education offers, according to studies, prevent 86 percent of millennials from leaving their current jobs - proof that a development plan should definitely not be missing from your list of motivational ideas.

Millennials not only need opportunities for advancement, but also the certainty that their company is actively promoting them in their development.

As part of the Gallup study “How Millennials Want to Work and Live”, 59 percent of the millennials surveyed stated that they attach great importance to learning and development opportunities when applying. Only 44 percent of Generation X members agreed with this statement, and 41 percent of baby boomers.

Another finding of this study: No less than 87 percent of millennials cited “professional growth, career opportunities and development opportunities” as an important aspect when choosing a job. Outside the millennial generation, it was only 69 percent.

What motivates Generation Z?

Employee motivation in one word: sense

You have probably read inspiring quotes and requests to speak about the importance of self-actualization in the workplace. This concept is particularly important for Generation Z.

Members of this generation have a keen awareness that they spend a significant part of their life in the workplace - and they want to spend that time doing something they enjoy doing. In a study with 235 business students, 64.7 percent of those surveyed named “I like work” as their most important motivational factor at work - even before aspects such as remuneration and career opportunities.

So how can you ensure that these employees enjoy what they do? The best way to do this is by showing them that what they are doing is serving a higher purpose.

Gen Z members are not content to just sit down their workdays while getting their salary on a regular basis. Rather, they value being able to make a difference with their work. In an extensive study with over 2000 respondents, researchers came to the conclusion that this generation is the first for whom meaning is the top criterion in choosing a career.

A study by Dell also revealed that 38 percent of Generation Z members want to work for socially or environmentally responsible companies. 45 percent look for meaning in the workplace that goes beyond mere pay.

Employee motivation is individual

The importance of employee motivation can hardly be emphasized enough. However, knowing how to best motivate your own team as a manager or how to work successfully as an employee with different types of work can be a challenge - especially given the large differences between the generations.

In summary, here is a brief (generalizing) overview of the factors that motivate the different generations particularly strongly:

  • Employee motivation for baby boomers: Flexibility
  • Employee motivation for Generation X: Autonomy
  • Employee motivation for millennials: Development
  • Employee motivation for Generation Z: Sense

The differences are clear, but the good news is that we all have a lot more in common than we think. Most of us value a positive work environment, a friendly team and recognition for good performance.

The even better news is that the motivational factors mentioned above don't actually contradict one another. Ultimately, we can all benefit from more flexibility, autonomy, development opportunities and meaning in our profession - the ultimate proof that we are actually better as a team than alone.

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