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Mary Beth Waddill

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How to motivate employees, whatever their age


Many modern offices comprise employees from different generations, each with their own set of requirements from their employer.

In order to accommodate as many workers as possible, employers must appreciate exactly how to approach individuals’ needs, and keep them feeling satisfied in their jobs.

Our research explains what differentiates the various generations, and how their behavioural idiosyncrasies in the office can be harnessed, as well as what difficulties they may face when it comes to their work.

Generation Y (aka Millennials)

The recession has hit Generation Y hard, so whilst this group makes up the largest proportion of the US workforce (34%), they still make up an overwhelming chunk of the unemployed, with 48% of unemployed people in 2013 from this generation.

This has led to some resentment among members of Generation Y, with many feeling let down by the current economic climate and its effect on their jobs. Millennials are always looking for new opportunities, so it is up to employers to offer plenty of room for progression and training in order to retain the best Gen Y workers.

It is thought by many employers that Gen Y employees do not have the same skill set as older workers. Statistically, most companies are likely to be headed up by Baby boomer business owners, with a workforce that is predominantly Millennial. This could create different opinions about which talents employees should have innately, and how much further training companies are willing to offer.

Gen Y workers tend to relish teamwork and the chance to collaborate on projects, which in turn means they require plentiful feedback and – where it’s due – praise. Employers should bear in mind that an environment that encourages co-operation will make Gen Y employees happier and more productive.

Generation X

Caught between the work-focused Baby boomers, and the work-life-balance ideals of Millennials, Generation X comprises people who want the best of both worlds. They are hard-working, educated, and more tech-savvy than the generation preceding them.

Independent working is no problem for them – in fact, they tend to excel at it. This is because many Gen Xers grew up without a high level of supervision from their parents, so they’re pretty unafraid of taking initiative and working with minimal guidance.

A huge benefit of Gen X employees is that they are entrepreneurial, and will always seek ways to make processes more efficient.

However, Gen X considers the work-life balance to be hugely important, so employers have to provide the freedom of flexibility in order to appeal to this workforce.

Baby boomers

While many baby boomers are over retirement age now, a large proportion of them have been forced to extend their working lives due to the recession. As such, they are likely to have worries about finances and security that employers would be wise to acknowledge.

Having gained plenty of experience within the working world, they are likely to have strong leadership skills and a conscientious work ethic. They will comfortably work independently because of this, and typically overachieve in their roles. This can be of benefit to and set a good example for younger generations, who have less experience and a different outlook.

Because the majority of their working lives did not revolve around the use of computers, their ability to take to new technologies may not be as good as younger employees’. Be patient – they will have other skills to bring to the table.

They may feel resentment about the fact that they are still having to work rather than enjoying their retirement plans, so employers must take care to make them feel valued and essential to the everyday activities of the company.

In a multi-generational workforce, it can be easy to overlook employees’ different needs in the name of ‘treating everyone equally’. While respect and honesty are owed to all staff members, employers must be aware of how each group works to get the best results from them.

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