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How Great Management Motivates Employees of All Generations

So… keeping your employees happy and motivated probably requires the same tools and strategies as it always has, right?

Well, not quite.

There are plenty of effective motivational tools that will always remain, such as:

  • Showing your employees you acknowledge and appreciate them.

  • Setting realistic individual and team goals and giving intrinsic and extrinsic rewards.

  • Being the model of behavior you want to see.

  • Holding your employees to the same standard and treating everyone with equal respect.

  • Having a fun atmosphere by creating traditions and celebrating holidays.

These days, workplaces are multi-generational, all with individuals with unique perspectives and needs, and it is absolutely essential to recognize their generational differences. Recent studies have determined the effectiveness levels between all the differing strategies for motivation, and one of the most important strategies that is often overlooked: Understanding the generational differences between your employees, and seeing the difference in their needs, values, attitudes, and strengths.

It would be pretty hard to maximize the team’s efficiency and motivation if you don’t first understand their individual generational frame of reference, right?

The Basics: Understanding the Generations

For the most part, three different generations can make up the majority of today’s workforce, and it’s imperative to understand the commonalities and differences in what will keep them all motivated. Starting with the basics—the generations themselves—will help set a foundation for understanding all of your staff members. Generalized statements tend to be made about each generation, but don’t always apply to every individual in that generation, especially individuals born on the cusps of generations.

It is important to note that there are no hard and fast year spans that absolutely make up each generation; generational years are inconsistent across various cultures and societies. The government’s Census Bureau doesn’t make any official statements or definitions of generations. Each generation is also partly defined by larger, society-changing events that occur.

In today’s world, there are roughly five main generations that make up our society, and roughly three of those generations are within the work force. Without a doubt, Millennials currently consist of the largest percentage of the workforce.

  • Generation Z: Born 1996 – TBD

  • Millennials: Born 1982 – 1995

  • Generation X: Born 1965 – 1981

  • Baby Boomers: Born 1946 – 1964

  • Greatest Generation / Traditionalists: Born before 1945

The Millennial Generation: Born 1982 – 1995

Starting with the largest percentage, Millennials consist of approximately 38% of the workforce currently. Millennials tend to be confident, optimistic, and assertive. Our education system has instilled a sense of accountability in this generation, and they are shown to be achievement-focused, excel in their fields, and be more tolerant and enjoy working in teams more than prior generations. Work/life balance is especially important in this group, since they were raised with an emphasis on family, and since they likely watched their parents go through economic layoffs and difficult career shifts, they focus on their private lives just as much or more than their careers. Millennials enjoy utilizing technology as well, since they’ve grown up with it as an intrinsic part of life.

In the workplace, different generations value different leadership qualities, and Millennials prefer a boss who cares and is inspiring and imaginative. They prefer a flexible work environment, since their high confidence lets them be successful and need less guidance. On the same note, they have higher expectations for advancement opportunities within their careers, and high expectations to have meaningful work.

Generation X: Born 1965 – 1981

The second largest percentage of the workforce consists of Generation X individuals. The beginnings of these individual’s work lives were commenced by recessions, outsourcing, layoffs, and other economic hard-times, creating the stereotype of Gen Xers being more “cynical” than most other generations in the workplace. Due to this, they prefer to take safe measures, such as emailing as the preferred communication in order to have a paper trail, and instant rewards after accomplishment due to skepticism about rewards even being existent. They are independent, pragmatic, and results-oriented, and appreciate efficiency and follow-through.

Baby Boomers: Born 1946 – 1964

Reliable and hard-working, Baby Boomers, often referred to as just Boomers, are at least 55. Employees this age may not easily be able to pull extremely long shifts or stray from their sleep schedule too much, but on a regular business hours work schedule, they are dependable and efficient. This generation has valuable life experience, and excel at dealing with people.

This generation has dealt with and been influenced by several different life events that other generations never have. Not only do they consist of the former hippies of the 60s, but they also grew up in a peaceful time and have never gone to war, as well as experiencing the social change of the Civil Rights Movement.

The Application: What You Can Do For Your Multi-Generational Team

For The Millennials

  1. Create interpersonal relationships

We know Millennials value a boss that cares over the previous generations, so it’s time to reevaluate and make an honest critique about your management style. Create interpersonal relationships with your employees if one doesn’t already exist. That includes understanding that mentorship is important in growing this relationship, as well as giving your employees proper praise and recognition. Practice regular feedback instead of just an annual review. Cultivate an atmosphere of empathy and guidance, and you’re likely to have effective and motivated employees on your team.

  1. Remember the importance of a work/life balance

Having a true “work/life balance” for a young employee involves giving them a flexible work environment. This can decrease stress and strengthen job satisfaction, which in turn will let employees feel like work is their second home. The work/life balance will let a Millennial remain involved in their community and create the positive social change they desire, while not worrying about their personal and prefessional lives clashing. Communicate with your younger employees to find out if they feel they have a good work/life balance.

  1. Utilize effective technology

Millennials are tech-dependent. It is fully expected that their place of work will have sufficient technology. The desire to learn and grow on a personal as well as professional level will require the most effective technology to get them there. The best opportunities out there for a successful company will most likely be thanks to technology and some motivated Millennials. Do some research on the latest technologies tha could improve your business by asking the experts.

  1. Foster a strong culture

Company culture is valued now more than it ever has been by any other generation. Be mindful in having your company support some great causes or give back to the community. Millennials are interested in a wide variety of ideas, cultures, and beliefs, and enjoy being exposed to new things. Companies with diversity programs and a diverse range of people are attractive to the younger generation.

For Generation X

The second largest percentage of the workforce consists of Generation X individuals. The beginnings of these individual’s work lives were commenced by recessions, outsourcing, layoffs, and other economic hardtimes, creating the stereotype of Gen Xers being more “cynical” than most other generations in the workplace. Due to this, they prefer to take safe measures, such as emailing as the preferred communication in order to have a paper trail, and instant rewards after accomplishment due to skepticism about rewards even being existent. They are independent, pragmatic, and results-oriented, and appreciate efficiency.

  1. Encourage their individualism

Gen Xers came of age during a faltering economy, full of layoffs and outsourcing. They were the first generation where it was common to have a two-income household growing up and to be a “latch-key” kid. As a result, this generation is known for being resourceful, self-sufficient, and individualistic. They like responsibility in the workplace, and can also have a casual disdain for authority. Remember to not micro-manage, and encourage the hands-off management philosophy with these folks. They appreciate the freedom, and will still show you a great job well done.

  1. Respect their independence and autonomy

This generation has been around for a couple decades already, and have gained leadership skills, but also appreciate direct and immediate feedback. They respect those they consider experts, and believe that being an authoritative figure in the workplace is a substantial achievement through hard work and dedication, which they strive for as well. Their autonomy is necessary to have, so remember to let them flourish into the authoritative figures they respect, and not control them to the point of driving them away.

  1. Clearly define your expectations

This results-oriented group will appreciate scheduled meetings and thorough communication so that they can fully embrace projects and make them their own. Gen Xers like knowing exactly what is expected of them, and then their resourcefulness will guide them to success. Be sure to communicate with your Gen X employees about their thoughts on what is expected of them.

For The Boomers

  1. Give them the proper titles and authority they’ve earned

Boomers have the most valuable knowledge and experience among all the generations, and they deserve to feel as valuable as they are. Make sure you are rewarding their loyalty, and giving them the earned and deserved status and credentials when it is deserved.

  1. Have them mentor younger generations

The older generation may be seeking more meaning in their careers, and you can show them that you recognize and appreciate that by asking them to mentor the younger generation. Conveying to them that you see their extra value and knowledge is a huge motivating factor for them, and can benefit the other employees and the company as a whole.

  1. Remind them they are valued and needed

Boomers often do not have nor care to have the work/life balance that other generations need. They are work-centric, and often define themselves by their professional accomplishments. For individuals like this, it is essential to let them know they are valued and respected. At the same time, it is said that Boomers do not require constant feedback like other generations, but have reported that recognition in other ways is expected. Monetary rewards, flexible retirement plans, and peer recognition will do the trick for this generation.

While a lot of differences between generations are over-exaggerated, and plenty of their characteristics overlap, there is no doubt that there are plenty of differences between generations that still need to be recognized to maintain a happy and motivated workplace. Don’t risk alienating good workers by making assumptions on them based on their generation—communication will always be key, and remembering generational differences will be a great guide to uncovering what motivates your employees the most.

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