Engaging a Multi-Generational Workforce

PBCPic*This is a guest post authored by Lynne Cruickshank, senior consultant at Peter Berry Consultancy (PBC). 

A clear link has been established between how leadership drives engagement, which in turn drives performance. However, one of the challenges that leaders face is how to engage a multi-generational workforce that consists of people who differ in their perceptions and approach to work. Through developing an understanding of the unique motivators, drivers, and values of their workforce, leaders can identify the kind of approaches and work environments that are most likely to engage and motivate their employees from all generations.

So, what motivates different generations?

Research conducted by PBC revealed that people from younger generations in the Australian workforce (i.e. Generation Y [born 1978-1992] and Generation Z [born 1993-present]) tend to have distinctly different values and motivators compared to those from older generations (i.e. Generation X [born 1965-1977] and Baby Boomers [born 1946-1964]).

Specifically, younger generations (i.e. Generation Y and Generation Z) were more likely to value work where they can:

  • Influence others, challenge themselves, and focus on achievement and success
  • Stand out and be acknowledged for their achievements
  • Find enjoyment, variety, and fun
  • Socialize, network, and collaborate with others
  • Have a sense of certainty and predictability

Those from Generation Z were also found to be more strongly motivated by opportunities to engage in meaningful work that contributes to society and helps others compared to older generations (i.e. Generation X and Baby Boomers).

On the other hand, those from older generations (i.e. Generation X and Baby Boomers) were more likely to:

  • Have stronger values toward upholding traditional ways of working, respecting a sense of hierarchy, and being good organizational citizens
  • Present with a preference for a professional approach to work
  • Be less concerned about the need for teamwork and socializing
  • Not as concerned with wanting status and praise or being in environments that are fun and provide variety

What does this mean for those in leadership roles?

When seeking to engage and motivate employees from Generations Y and Z, leaders should consider providing these individuals with opportunities to engage in work that they will find meaningful, that will challenge and stretch them, and also provide them with the opportunities to engage and collaborate with others. Leaders should identify opportunities to celebrate successes and ‘wins’ with these individuals and acknowledge and recognize their contributions and achievements as this is likely to help further engage and motivate employees from younger generations. Additionally, these employees are likely to appreciate having factors that enable work-life balance and flexibility. Finally, as younger generations were found to more strongly value having a sense of certainty and predictability, they are likely to appreciate clarity around their current role as well as open discussions about their future career within the organization.

It is important to note that what engages and motivates employees from younger generations is not necessarily going to be the same for those from Generation Y or Baby Boomers due to the differences in values found across different generations.

For employees from Generation Y and Baby Boomers, they are less likely to find public acknowledgement and recognition of their contributions and achievements motivating and are likely to prefer focusing on deliverables rather than spending time focusing on socializing and injecting fun into the workplace. They are more likely to value tradition and conventions within the organization and appreciate those who demonstrate a strong work ethic and help foster a professional and business-like environment. As people from these generations are more likely to be in leadership roles within an organization, it will also be important for these leaders to keep in mind that what they tend to find rewarding and their preferred working style may differ from people they are responsible for leading and managing who are from younger generations.

At the end of the day, it is important for leaders to think about the type of culture and work environment that they want to foster based on the organization’s values and strategic focus.

They can then ensure that key practices, processes, and systems are in place to help drive this desired culture and work environment that will help achieve the organization’s key goals and performance outcomes. To ensure employees are engaged and motivated and contributing to the successful performance of the organization, it is also important for leaders to understand the values, motivators, and drivers of their employees and how this is likely to impact how they will respond to the current culture and work environment within the organization. While the generational differences outlined above are useful to consider when managing multi-generational teams, it is important to remember and respect each team member as an individual and to seek to understand their personal motivators at work.