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Employee satisfaction

Generational differences in the workplace

Does it really exist – the generation difference in the workplace? How big are the differences between the individual generations when it comes to work attitude and job satisfaction? And what does this mean for companies?

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A generation is defined as “a group of people born and raised in the same social and historical context” [1]. Each generation is characterised by specific, personal values, behaviour and work attitudes [2,3,4]:

Baby Boomer (1945 – 1964)

Employees of this generation are strongly customer- and future-oriented, optimistic [2], competitive and loyal [3]. They love individual freedom, but still enjoy working in a team. They tend to be technical-conservatives [4], but their problem solving is always efficient [5]. They are particularly committed to work-related success and personal gratuities [4,6]. Although the Boomers belong to the so-called workaholics [3], health and family security always come first [4]. Honesty, responsibility and loyalty are, besides idealism, materialism, safety orientation and a healthy distrust of authorities, further characteristics of the Baby Boomers [4].

Generation X (1964 – 1980)

Contrary to the previous generation, Generation X (Gen X) benefits from the technology [2] and grows up with the prototypes of the new media. Gen X is independent and creative [2], fun-loving and independent [7]. They attach great importance to a working environment that is not too serious [8] – with a healthy balance between work and family life as well as health and family security [4]. Because they are much more concerned with their career and advancement opportunities, they are less loyal than the Baby Boomers [3] and tend to move from job to job [9].

Generation Y (since 1980)

Generation Y (Gen Y) is technically skilled [4], optimistic, multitasking capable [2], very ambitious and curious, but also quickly bored on the job [4]. As with Gen X, this leads to faster job changes. [10]. Having grown up with social media such as Facebook, WhatsApp etc., they demand and expect immediate feedback and communication [4]. Gen Y employees are considered cooperative [11], realistic and cosmopolitan [12]. Again, family security, health, freedom, honesty and responsibility [4] as well as a healthy work-life balance and independence are among their work-related values [13].

Use generation-specific skills to build a strong and satisfied team.

Do the expectations of companies correspond to reality?

The expectations that a company has of generation-specific work attitudes and workplace behaviour should correspond as closely as possible to reality – otherwise this can lead to dissatisfaction on both sides [14].

For preventing or eliminating inconsistencies, the following measures are suitable:
Specific

In order to increase job satisfaction, managers should ensure that they directly address and strengthen the respective values and needs. For Baby Boomer, this can be more praise and communication, higher performance pay or more work [4]. The job of Gen X and Y should be fun, interesting and exciting, offer sufficient areas of responsibility and scope of action [4], ensure flexible working hours and opportunities for internal promotion [14]. The Gen Y needs a lot of attention and feedback. They feel most comfortable when they are taken seriously [5,14].

General

Even if the working values and attitudes vary between generations, everyone wants to find a job with which they are completely satisfied. Employees attach as much importance to challenging projects, competitive remuneration and the opportunity to participate in further training measures as they do to fair treatment and an appropriate work-life balance [2]. Managers should therefore not only focus on existing generational differences, but also work with the commonalities.

If wishes and needs are taken into account, a high degree of commitment, loyalty and productivity develops on the part of the employees [4].

What can managers concretely do?

Mentor-Mentee programmes could be introduced to ensure that both employees and the company benefit from the different skills and characteristics: The Baby Boomer are the mentors who take the Gen X and Y by the hand as mentees in order to address the mutual respect and the different views and attitudes [5]. Nevertheless, Gen X and Y could pass on their technical know-how to the Boomers in special workshops and projects and support them in these matters [14].

Communication and leadership training or teambuilding measures are suitable for bringing out common strengths from the individual and generation-specific characteristics and leading the entire team to a higher level of job satisfaction.

Sources

[1] Mannheim, K. (1953). Essays on sociology and social psychology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

[2] White, M. (2011). Rethinking generation gaps in the workplace: Focus on shared values, 11, 2–11. Retrieved from https://www.kenan-flagler.unc.edu/executive-development/about/our-team/~/media/Files/documents/executive-development/rethinking-generation-gaps-in-the-workplace.pdf

[3] Crampton, S. M. & Hodge, J. W. (2007). Generations in the workplace: Understanding age diversity. The Business Review, Cambridge, 9, 16–23.

[4] Whitney Gibson, J., Greenwood, R. A., & Murphy, E. F. (2011). Generational differences in the workplace: Personal values, behaviors, and popular beliefs. Journal of Diversity Management, 4, 1–8. doi.org/10.19030/jdm.v4i3.4959

[5] Gursoy, D., Maier, T. A., & Chi, C. G. (2008). Generational differences: An examination of work values and generational gaps in the hospitality workforce. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 28, 448–458.

[6] Leschinsky, R. M. & Michael, J. H. (2004). Motivators and desired company values of wood products industry employees: investigating generational differences. Forest Products Journal, 54, 34–39.

[7] Lyons, S., Duxbury, L., & Higgins, C. (2005). Are gender differences in basic human values a generational phenomenon? Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, 53, 763–778. doi:10.1007/s11199-005-7740-4

[8] Patota, N., Schwartz, D., & Schwartz, T. (2007). Leveraging generational differences for productivity gains. Journal of American Academy of Business, Cambridge, 11, 1–11.

[9] Johnson, J. A. & Lopes, J. (2008). The intergenerational workforce revisited. Organizational Development Journal, 26, 31–37.

[10] Wallace, J. (2001). After X comes Y – echo boom generation enters workforce. HRMagazine.

[11] Zemke, R., Raines, C., & Filipczak, B. (2000). Generations at work: Managing the clash of Veterans, Boomers, Xers and Nexters in your workplace. New York, NY: Amacom.

[12] McNamara, S. A. (2005). Incorporating generational diversity. AORN Journal, 81, 1149–1152. doi:10.1016/S0001-2092(06)60377-3

[13] Yeaton, K. (2008). Recruiting and managing the ‘why?’ generation: Gen Y. The CPA Journal, 78, 68–73. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/openview/f679b8ec0dd830e393b9a767de798842/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=41798

[14] Tay, A. (2011). Managing generational diversity at workplace: expectations and perceptions of different generations of employees. African Journal of Business Management, 5, 249–255. doi:10.5897/AJBM10.335

Stephanie Wörz

Als Master-Psychologin mit dem Schwerpunkt der Arbeits- und Organisationspsychologie bin ich im Bereich Business Development tätig. Ich stehe meinen Kollegen bei der Entwicklung von CompanyMood mit psychologischem Fachwissen zur Seite.

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