What Motivates Employees? The Answer Depends (Partly) on their Generation



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Dalahn Colley , Student (University), United States
The age of retirement has been moved to 60, 65, 70 years and beyond. Where each generation used to pass the baton; there is no baton being passed anymore.
We can now find multiple generations (up to 4!) working in the workplace together. There are many intergenerational differences, including work motivation. While every person is different, it is proven that generational similarities such as priorities, motivators, reward preferences etc. do exist.
What motivates employee generations...An organization has to address that when creating a motivational plan. There are currently four generations in the workforce / rat race :-). Generational trends and motivators have been researched and identified by experts. To address the employees as a group an effective leader will understand and convey the messages proven to motivate each generation:
The generational names are debatable but these are the names I chose to use:
1. The Matures are born prior to 1946. They believe work is an obligation, no news is good news, their employer respects their experience and professionalism. Their satisfaction is gained from a job well done.
2. The Baby Boomers are born between 1946-1964. They view work as an adventure, want to be valued and needed by their employer. They don’t appreciate criticism and work for money, title and recognition.
3. The Generation X’ers are born between 1965-1980. They view work as a contract, want to do it their way without rules. They also feel freedom is the best reward and will seek feedback as opposed to waiting.
4. The Millennia's are born between 1981-1994. They view work as a means to an end, but want meaningful work done with other bright creative people, and want everything to manifest with the push of a button.
(Source: Lesonsky R., 2011).
 

  What Motivates Employees? What's Behind Generational Differences
Scott Greenwood, USA
The generational differences are a function of what the environment offered at the time their behaviors were being formed.
Everyone has a natural behavioral pattern. In my business we refer to it as a Predictive Index™ (PI) pattern. That natural pattern will offer predictable data as to what will motivate a person, what might not motivate them, or even what might demotivate them. It is all based on needs which are identifiable from the pattern. Once we know your needs, we know how to motivate you.
People with similar behavior patterns will be motivated by similar needs no matter which generation they are from. Those needs are the same, but how those needs are expressed and how they are met can be different based on their generations. The solution starts with understanding the needs. More on the Predictive Index.
 
  Multiple Generations Have there Own Characteristics
David Wilson, Canada
I agree that every generation has its unique characteristics. However, I believe the challenge is developing reward and recognition programs, which improve employee satisfaction across all generations.
Consider the fact that there are 5 generations in the workforce. Hopefully organizations will be prepared to employee people from any of these generations...
 
  How to Arrange Employees into Motivational Groups
Daniele, Italy
Generations is only one aspect to be take into account for exploring employees motivation: culture, geography, personality, deeply influence motivation as well.
I believe that the motivation point in the youngest generation is more flat and easily predictable. In the oldest generation also the various frustrations acquired along the work life influence the employees motivation, making this group more variable with respect to motivation points.
The work history of employees must be viewed in relationship with their generation to arrange them correctly into motivational groups.
 
  Motivation is Complex and is Primarily Based on Traits
Hinda K. Sterling, Ph.D., USA
Thank you for the thoughts you presented. However, even though assigning characteristics to generations is popular, it is at best poor behavioral science. Motivation is complex and so I refer you to the work of David McClelland who did some seminal studies of competencies.
Motivation lies at the trait level. We are motivated by power or achievement or affiliation or a combination of 2. This runs across all generations. You cannot motivate a person to do anything that is against their nature. You can however coach them for engagement.
 
  Generational Differences in Motivation / Communication Depend on the World Region
Loek Hopstaken, Vietnam
Communication across generations is definitely an issue, as most of us have experienced it in one way or another.
I'd like to add that the 4 generations as mentioned in Dalahn's quote apply to Europe, N. America, perhaps S. America, Australia. I doubt if they apply to Africa, India or China. They do not apply to the country I live & work in: Vietnam.
Differentiation in generations leads to... different results. But the issue of cross-generational communication / cooperation is an issue that needs attention.
 
  We Are What We Were When
Gil Vondrasek, 1
There was a great training film from the 1980's entitled "We are what we were when". It describes quite vividly what Dalahn is describing.
I would also mention Peter Block's great work on Stewardship which talks about a whole new relationship and the price companies pay for consistency and control.
Most people want freedom and control over their work and a say in what goes on and how things are done. Some people do not want the accountability that goes with that.
Does our birth date impact our willingness to accept accountability?
 
  Culture Influences Employee Motivation More than Generation
Dr Hussein Laqwer, Saudi Arabia
I think the motivation for work is a cultural issue more than any other thing.
Cultures that give values for work will not show these types of differences between generations.
 
  Age is Just a Number
Dev Sen, UK
We tend to forget the idea of "retirement" is just a recent invention. In fact the people being called "mature" come from generation where the concept of retirement did not exist as we now have come to accept it.
In many countries, generations work together. This was the tradition in the agricultural era - the idea of family and larger village units with all members working together.
The industrial era destroyed this, but I think the information era is going to bring it back in the so called western developed nations. But in other countries, even countries like India, China and Japan, the notion of 70 year olds working together with 20 year old is not a big deal.
Why should a concept (retirement) largely developed by the so called progressive sociologists (who have done untold damage to the western work ethic with their experimental ideas on human behaviour and development) tell me when I should or should not work?
 
  The Relation between Maslow's Pyramid and Motivation of Generations
SAMUEL LUZOBE, Uganda
Employee motivation... Interesting! My contention is that Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs scheme seems to be operational in my own country. Because most people are at the lower positions of the hierarchy, money seems to still hold sway in motivating employees especially the younger generation.
However in generation say born in 1946 -1960s, they are no longer solely motivated by money, but are motivated by esteem needs. They can leave a highly paying job to one where they are paid lower but maintain a higher esteem (feel loved, feel a sense of respect etc).
Having said that, I must admit that I have only encountered the generation divisions of Matures, Baby Boomers, Generation X etc. when I read American books or scholarly articles. It has no meaning in this side of the world!
 
  We Need a Method to Efficiently Assess Individual Employee Motivation
Prasanna, Sri Lanka
Motivation levels of workers differ from one to another because of their intensity, direction and persistence toward the organizational goal differ.
According to already mentioned Hierarchy of Needs by Maslow, people have 5 different needs: physiological, safety, love, self-esteem and self-actualization. The amount of needs reduce along the line from physical needs to self actualization needs.
It is a HR managers ultimate task to find out what are the needs that satisfied each and every employee. But sometimes it is difficult to look into each and every one's needs and due to that there is an urgency to identify groups of employees with the same or similar needs.
Even Hertzberg emphasized in his Two Factor Theory that only hygiene factors such as money do NOT motivate the employees. According to him an increase of the salary is just a hygiene factor for some employees.
There should be an efficient scientific method to identify individual means of motivation rather than categorizing them according to the year they were born or how old they are.
The mind is always young.
 
  Work-life Balance is the Common Motivator among Generations
Truong Thi Lan Anh, Vietnam
I would suggest there's one thing in common among generations: work-life balance that finally brings in their happiness and sustainability.
 
  4 Generations for 4 Ways or Life
jorge eixeres, Spain
Imagine those 4 generations with the same instruments of knowledgement, as internet is. You can notice then that younger people are less motivated to develop their own career. Just by pressing a button, should everything be accomplished? I'm not overly critic with new twchnologies, but I am still preferring to read a book on paper rather than in a screen...
Certainly, I am a baby boomer.
 
  Differences in What Motivates Younger and Older Employees
Jone Sovalawa, Fiji
Motivating the younger generation remains a challenge in many work places because they can be more qualified, but their salary scale will still start from the base.
Also it is worthy to note that for the older generation once they are stagnant in a post, motivation is very difficult.
 
  6 Commonalities in what Motivates Employees Among Generations
Johnny Michael Tan, Malaysia
6 commonalities straddle the Baby Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y! They are:
1. All three generations want to make money
2. Everyone needs to be respected
3. Having 'friendship' is important
4. Success is a common need
5. Minimum sense of others (I/me comes before we/us)
6. Integrity.
So, management must optimize the shared values, knowledge, culture in any organization to accentuate and take advantage of these 6 commonalities.
 
  The Age of Individuals Influences their Behavior and Motivation
Danilo Mazzarol, Italy
For sure the individual's age makes the difference. The different generations produce different behaviours. The HR manager has to create the best atmosphere in the company to produce the people belief that their are in a big family. Age barriers can be exceeded by cohesion between people. The company will then obtain more benefit.
 
  What Motivates All Generations?
Wulf-Dieter Krueger, Thailand
What motivates all generations? Competence of and setting good examples by 'superiors'.
There might be variances according to generation, though.
 
  Common Motivations Among all Generations
WALTER Pascal, France
I agree that the answer depends partly on their generation. That's a fact.
But all generations also have common motivations and that's what is the most important. Money, recognition, satisfaction or knowledge are common motivations. The difference between generations is the ranking of these values.
 
  Just Learn About the Multi-generational Workforce
JoAnn Becker, USA
I know a 98 yr young retired US Federal judge who still practices and gets called back to the bench to serve. All generations need to learn to work with other generations.
As the leader of the MacCarther Foundation Team on Aging Economics said "Companies will have to develop new models of how people work" beyond m-f/8-5/52wks.
We have too many complex challenges to not use the talent of those still willing to work. And, that is why we need to all learn how to motivate all.
Four your information, research tells us for the 5 generations in the workforce today, what they each want 80% is the same.
This is not rocket science, it is change - just like when women and people of color came into the workforce. There are 16 MBTI Personalities and we can train how to work together, so with only 5 generations we can do this too...
- Joann of Arc.
 
  Leaders can Motivate Multiple Generations with Empowerment
karel sovak, USA
I think the best indicator of a motivated employee comes from the empowerment they are given and the ability to make use of their strengths. This is not necessarily a generational thing.
People love to have their knowledge, skills, and abilities recognized when they contribute positive results. If they are constantly criticized for weaknesses, it is not a motivating environment.
A quality, servant-leader puts others first and seeks to identify are those others making the best use of their strengths? If not, it is the servant-leader's obligation to ensure they find a way to engage those others in those positions.
We will soon have 5 generations in the work place (Seniors - prior to 1946, Baby Boomers - 1946 to 1964, Gen X - 1964 to 1982, Gen Y - 1982 to 2000, and the Millennia - 2000+) and each may have their own unique characteristics and attitudes toward motivation.
Servant-leaders don't worry about those differences; they focus on the similarities. All people need to be appreciated. This is universal.
 
  Employee Motivation Across Age Groups
Rebecca Kibazo-Gasque, USA
@Truong Thi Lan Anh: I agree with you that work life balance and sustainability are great employee motivators across all the age groups.
We chase both success and self esteem but without joy and peace of mind, it's all vanity. An employer that's promotes work life balance would benefit more from employees.
Unfortunately the global competition is forcing employers to do otherwise...
 
  How Employers Motivated Employees over the Years...
gonzalez, France
Since last industrial era in 1900, modern companies still have considered workers like machines or raw material. Now, this motivation has not changed in our companies mind even we are in the 21 century.
So, companies should revised their opinion and not only thinking about "productivity", "stackholders","benefits and rentability", to create more customers needs, "quality product", so finally where is employees motivation?
The common sense would like to put on a central point quality product made by all employees of a company for one goal "selling".
After one century of Taylorism and Fordism, we have forgotten the essential essence of work. Employees and their value added are the heart of a company (they are using strength, hard work, cleverness, etc.). They may well work on natural things: respect, confidence, to be recognized at work, to be well paid. Our companies are aware of it and they should change their management to make a real group cohesion in front of world globalization. Time to change it !
 
  Motivation is Different for Different Cultures
Maia de Lourdes Larrea, Ecuador
@Dr Hussein Laqwer: I also think that this theory is not applicable for everyone, each culture will have different motivations for the economical situation, education, for generations.
But people always appreciate in a job to be paid with justice, recognized, respected, and having new opportunities for improve their position in the company.
 
  It Doesn't Matter How Old People Are, they Want Only One Thing...
Angel, Brazil
A promotion, better salary, a tap on the back, etc.
Isolated or combined, they mean only one thing: recognition!
 
  Dealing with Responsibility / Accountability When you Grow Older
Bert Walker, USA
@Gil Vondrasek: You wrote: "Does our birth date impact our willingness to accept accountability?"
I think that your accountability or sense of responsibility is at least partly a function of age, and your level of personal experience.
When you're younger, you work under someone else. They are responsible for the outcome, as your supervisor.
As you age, you work more independently, maybe even someday assuming authority over someone else in a working environment.
Eventually, no matter your age, you will be called upon to be responsible for what you do. It's part of growing up.
The problem might come, when you get held responsible for the mistakes of others, when you had no authority over or direct involvement in the situation. There is such a thing as scapegoating, managers looking for someone to fire to 'get rid of the problem' or at least make themselves look as though they took the proper actions, to appear correct and responsible to their supervisors.
 
  Generational Motivation
Vance E. Woods, USA
@Samuel Luzobe: Generation motivation is definitely a cultural phenomenon. It is relevant only in cultures with mixed workforces, and who have been institutionalized into a relatively stable work environment.
 
  Two Levels of Motivation: The Natural-Purpose and the Environment-Tainted Motivation
Daniel Newton Obaka, USA
This generational analysis comes at a time when the need to redefine value added leadership has become one of the greatest challenges of our time. The techno-generation (current generation) depends largely on information technology revolution to fuel what they do.
What motivates individuals, organizations do what they do is based on human nature. Pink rightly stated "humans, by their nature, seek purpose-a cause greater than and more enduring than themselves".
Also it seems apparent that each person is born in each generation is influenced by the social, economic, educational, and cultural milieu they found themselves. Thus, it seems that the 'purpose parameter' of why I do what I do is largely tainted by my social, cultural, educational, economic, and technological environment.
I am of the opinion that there are two levels of motivation: the natural-purpose motivation and the environment-tainted motivation. The natural-purpose motivation seeks for " a cause greater and more enduring than" self.
 
  What Motivates People over the Generations?
Alain Kriegel, France
I agree that everyone is looking for a balance between work and private life. The equilibrium point of the balance varies with the generations.
But whatever generations that is, the more the desire or interest in professional projects is important, the more accepted or acceptable concessions will be important.
The humanist meaning and values ​​have taken over most of the generations. If we succeed in once more giving meaning to the work, to the company, and to entrepreneurship I am optimistic for the future.
 
  Work Motivations of Young and Mature People
Carlos Torres, Mexico
Indeed, the different generations may have other perspectives on the meaning and purpose of their work. For over 13 years or so, I had to share experiences with people from different generations. In the end I see the attitude of a person is what makes the difference to the motivation and commitment that he brings to work.
Young people at work see an opportunity and a challenge. Mature people see more of a responsibility to fulfill the allocation of activities.
Beyond achieving employee motivation is to see how their activities are coordinated with your wishes or personal interests. An employee who does not find a relationship between these two factors is unlikely to be motivated by money, position, office or the recognition of his work.
 
  Employee Motivation also Varies According to Individual Personality
Shafiul Azam, Bangladesh
Indeed employee motivation varies from generation to generation to some extent. But it also varies among generations in a way that psychological construction define behaviour of a person.
That is why individual personality is another important factor of employee motivation.
 
  Careful with Generalizations of Generational Imbalances in Working Mindsets
Arif ur Rehman, Pakistan
@Gil Vondrasek: Another movie that comes to my mind is ‘The way we were’. Having said that we must remember that when we talk of generational working mindsets, what cannot be overlooked is regional anthropology, history, culture, beliefs and values all of which go to color the generational idiosyncrasies – any generalization could lead to negative results.
 
  Baton of Experience is Not Passed among Generations
Dev Sen, UK
@Carlos Torres: indeed the problem we face as more graduates and MBA students are churned out of business school believing that the world is based on the narrow rational models that we teach, the more problems we have when it comes to understanding what motivates people.
The rational model would say people would love not work after a certain age but this is not what happens in practice. The loss of experience due to retirement is a key problem in the economic decline countries like UK and USA. Baton passing in organizations does not happen as a single event like in a race; it is the process by which years of life experiences can be passed to the next generation, something that we have come not value in the West. Instead we believe that management can be taught like maths in a class room.
 
  The Importance of the Boss
raffaele campanella, Italy
I have a very clear statement in my mind, after 35 years spent in industrial organizations: "The most difficult task of a boss is to motivate his employees"! Therefore I do not think that motivation is strictly related to the age.
I have known mature people with the "holy fire" inside the stomach, leading excellent groups and even young professionals with the same attitude and vice versa. The common factor has been a boss and an organization with positive influence on them.
F. Herzberg studied hygienic and motivation factors to work in the late 1950s, and in my opinion his conclusions are still valid today.
 
  Common Motivation for 4 Generations
Dilip Khanal, Nepal
Appreciation, challenge and reward are common in all generations. The Generation X'ers and Millenia's are also motivated if the work place has gender balance.
 
  What Motivates Employees? Generational Determinant
Upadhyayula Narayana Das, India
Ascribing motivation as a function of generation might be too simplistic a view.
One might find a veteran for whom "work is worship" and a rookie who is only interested in the paycheck and really not in work. Or in the other extreme a veteran who's counting days till retirement and a rookie who 's eager to make it big in his career.
The trick is to find out what really motivates either of them. Would it be carrot or stick or the right environment or loyalty to the manager. It is the manager's job to diagnose the causative factor and apply it individually. There would be no universally applicable cut and dried motivational formula.
I remember the advice a senior gave me in my early days as sales manager. He said, ‘if all your employees are self-starters and do their work perfectly there would be no need for a manager for them, which means there would be no need for you. You should also remember that managerial work does not have predefined formulae. It is highly contextual.’ it was excellent advice.
 
  Motivating Younger Employees to Find Greater Depth in Understanding
Martin Noonan, Australia
Motivation is like perception. "It's not mine, its theirs" is what is most important here, irrespective of age, ethnicity, culture or position. Managers responsibility is to "create an environment" that is motivating where individuals relate through their own motivators of respect, power and control, approval, and recognition. (Wilson learning).
Motivation's sole purpose is to get "them to think of the idea first before you have to tell them". For Gen Y's and Gen X's and the following generations there are no differences, just simply the word "frustration" to understand. The brain is changing with each generation with extraordinary exposure to information. I say to managers of younger folk. "let them make a mistake to feel responsibility. They have to find greater depth in their understanding, rather than go through a flash of understanding through a search engine.
 
  Age / Generations Don't Matter Much
Beddoe, UK
Personally I feel these simple categories are generalising and as many others have stated do not take into account the numerous other factors which influence motivation in employees.
From experience age has little to do with motivation. Culture, team ethic, challange of the work tasks, training, employee involement in decision making and many other factors can be taken into account prior to the age of the person.
I agree that this could have some bearing on the underlaying personality which may effect motivation but there are numerous common motivational drivers which are at play which have greater influence.
 
  What Motivates Employees from Various Generations
Ellis, USA
Basic needs, such as security and recognition have always been around. All that's changed is our willingness to accept things.
The war generations learned to put up with just about anything and company loyalty was an expectation. You learned by apprenticeships and were 'mentored' by 'lifers' so it was easy to pick up on that philosophy.
As a baby boomer, once I became experienced, I challenged. This, by the way, is experience gained by.. well... experiencing something! I.e. having first hand knowledge or having wisdom passed down to you from more senior and experienced personnel. If the company didn't "appreciate you", you left because there were other opportunities out there.
The "X-box generation are able to pick up a lot more information, instantaneously, and can become "experts" on just about anything, overnight, without the experience. They have been brought up to challenge. Their motivational needs are more instant, i.e. they want it now. It's our job to manage their expectations and to keep the real.
 
  Interesting Comments by All
Gary Jones, Australia
All the comments are valid some coming from an academic research base, others from experience. Some of the participants in this forum have mentioned Maslows Hierarchy of Needs and Herzbergs' works. Have a look at both these authors - its interesting stuff they have produced. Then overlay their studies to your perceptions.
 
  What Motivates Employees: Use what they Like Most
Mbaile, South Africa
For the younger generation of employees the most important aspect to use to get them motivated is, to show them what they can achieve for their personal benefit (in short-term) ie. tangibles/ material.
The older generation is more concerned about (long term growth) and development intangibles ie. higher positions, recognition & influence.
Overall the thing to do is to align the employees personal goals to their professional obligations, irrespective of the generation group. This always yields the best results.
 
  Motivation of Generations not Valid in Poor Countries
hendrick Sauzande, Malawi
Motivation is not a direct function of generation, particularly in most poor or under-developed countries such as Malawi. As earlier alluded to by others, the need for money to purchase basic necessities is huge and can not easily be substituted by other motivators such as excellent working environment. People whose income is fairly below a dollar a day can only react positively to monetary motivation.
 
  Motivation Based on Generations Alone is Suicidal
Hemant Desai, India
All theories give you a point of view which necessarily has to be customised for the individual being managed.
In that sense Expectancy Theory is a helpful framework, although it does not identify specific attributes.
The question itself already identifies correctly, that the dependency of employee motivation on generations is partial. Indeed the impact of the generation attribute would be based on many other attributes.
To generalise and start identifying messages based on generations alone is suicidal; ignoring impact of many other attributes.
 
  Attributes of Generations / Cohorts
de vries, Netherlands
Generation planning is important. Not only in managing. Generations share common values but more important common experiences/ trauma's. Most trauma's are bonded to countries sometimes continents. However, in many countries wealth is also very closely linked to generations.
In my opinion a cohort is not 15 years but 7 years.
 
  What Motivates Employees from Various Genarations
John limpus, Australia
What motivates employees is reward. This is not always monetary:
- For the Mature generation, it is the satisfaction of a job done well.
- For Baby Boomers it is recognition
- For Generation "X" it is autonomy
- For Generation Millennia, an income base to allow them to do other things.
A good manager knows how to utilise this information to motivate his work force and achieve the best results.
He/she also knows how to get the various generations to work with and use each others knowledge as a valuable resource. Whilst older employees may not be as skilled with new technology they possess maturity and life experience that is useful in negotiation, problem solving and conflict resolution.
 
  Motivations of the Various Generations
AKOM JOSHUA, Ghana
According to Maslow, motivation need not depend on the type of generation but instead on the individual's need. It could be that certain needs would cut across all generations. I also agree partly with the hygiene and motivation developed propounded by Hertzberg.
All in all it also depends on the employee and the organization and not the generation. Within a generation needs might be very different.
 
  Generational Traits in Employees’ Motivation
Gafar Bamikole, UK
Compared to universal motivational theories, generational traits represent a more specific concept from which other (individual) motivational variables can be derived. The time or generational context provides inextricable complex challenges of holding a sacrosanct universal motivational theory to spur employees’ productivity.
Management needs to proactively identify what can induce employees’ energies as time changes, such as the adoption of business-to-employee technology, share options, recognition etc.
 
  What Motivate an Employee does not Depend on Generation
DOUGLAS AIDOO, Ghana
I think flexibility in job designs and reward systems contribute greatly to employee motivation. If these fall short in a particular state of employment, whether one belongs to a particular generation or not does not count.
 
  Common Denominator to Motivate Employees from Various Generations?
abraham garshong, Ghana
@David Wilson: I am in line with your thinking. It is possible to have a common denominator of factors that motivates employee to higher performance irrespective of their generations.
Despite all the negatives about cash as a motivator, it still remains the best common denominator for now, because it can procure most of the different items that the various generations might want and the office cannot produce.
Good appraisal systems, coaching and mentoring added to good salary administration is perfect.
The next critical issue is an interesting and congenial working environment where each staff feels valued. This starts with recruiting the right staff with good character/integrity. An attempt should be made to harmonize values in recruitment and maintained through training. There should be relaxing activities that bond the staff. The working environment should be clean, hygienic with good breaks.
 
  Various Generations Differences and Perspectives Worthy of Study
KATHRYN STEINER, MBA, USA
As the parent of a 21 year old, I have to admit I find it challenging at times to step into her shoes and see how she views the world.
I can probably understand the perspectives of those OLDER than myself more in some ways.
I came of age in the 70's, and early 80's, in a very different world, especially technologically, although I believe I'm somewhat up to speed as the say now... lol...
 
  Media Motivate the New Generation?
hernando bernal, Colombia
Motivation is more than perception, Alvin Toffler said family and human behavior change with the greatest exposure to information.
Since the arrival of internet and the new media, watching the motivation of the next generation is interesting.
 
  The World Changes and that Impacts the Motivation of Generations
Naomi Elisabeth, Indonesia
Change can be associated with this topic. I mean, the world is changing over a century, decade, or even years.
There are so many factors causing change: economy, political, social, nature, etc.
These changes have an impact on the situation or environment of every generation and because of that each generation has different motives, needs, and aspirations...
Just as also culture and geography/region contribute to differences in motivation.
 

   

 
   
 

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