Working through the generation gap

By Sarah Ell

Not everyone wants the same things from their job - and when you were born may have a major influence on what makes you happy at work.
Millennials are more likely to value the opportunity to gain skills and abilities, while boomers value being part of a winning team and collaborating with workmates.
Millennials are more likely to value the opportunity to gain skills and abilities, while boomers value being part of a winning team and collaborating with workmates.

Recent research by international human resources consultancy Aon Hewitt has shown generational differences between what makes for happy and engaged employees. What a baby boomer might see as a bonus, millennials might see as a given, and as for Generation X? They have different ideas again.

Aon Hewitt's Inside the Employee Mindset report shows that older workers, born between 1946 and 1964, are more likely to value meaningful work and feeling respected; younger employees, born from 1979 to 1996, are more likely to be looking for career development opportunities; while Generation X - those born between 1965 and 1978 - are, as usual, somewhere in the middle.

The study aimed to find out what makes employers stand out from others, what employees think of the rewards they receive for their labour not only salary but also benefits), and who employees want to receive communication from in terms of management, and what do they want to hear.

Jocelyn Anso, who leads Aon Hewitt's New Zealand talent team, says though the research was done in the US, surveying employees of large companies, the findings have relevance here.

"I have been presenting this research to both client forums and at a series of HR summits, and it resonates with people. It very much applies to New Zealand," she says.

She says it reveals a need for companies to change their thinking away from the traditional approach to how they attract and retain employees.

"In the past, companies have tended to look at business strategy and look at best practice and what other companies are doing. The third thing is, what do our employees actually want, what do they value," Anso says.

"It's the missing piece of the puzzle. The paradigm shift is not saying don't do the business strategy and the best practice stuff, but add in this third element, of talking to employees and find out what matters to them as individuals.

Employees are saying: get to know me as a person and put in place things that will actually make a difference to me and my job. And if you don't, another company will do that for me."

The research showed millennials place a lower value than other generational groups on receiving recognition at work, while baby boomers are more likely to want respect. Boomers are also more likely to view being "a fun place to work" and providing stimulating work as a differentiator between employers, while for millennials this is more of an expectation.

Younger workers also have higher expectations that a job will offer good career and/or development opportunities.

"It's not surprising that millennials have higher expectations in terms of career or development opportunities. They have come into a workforce struggling with flat organisational structure, where it is hard to get promotional opportunities. They are more likely to make lateral moves sideways to gain more experience, or take on special projects," Anso says. "Millennials are also more likely to move on if they don't see it happening for them -- they're not afraid to."

Millennials also have a different view of the role work plays in their wider lives, beyond just funding their lifestyle. They are more likely to value the opportunity to gain skills and abilities, while boomers value being part of a winning team and collaborating with workmates.

Good pay and benefits are neither strong differentiators or expectations for any of the generations, suggesting other, less tangible, factors are more important to many.

"There is still a little bit of an ethos that you just need to pay people what they think they're worth. That matters, but total rewards matter most," Anso says. "Total rewards is everything you can offer to an employee that they value -- not just pay but benefits like healthcare, car parking, and more intangible things.

Thirty per cent of those surveyed, across all generational groups, rated contributing to society in a meaningful way as an important characteristic of their employer.

"We live in a time of climate change and a much greater awareness of community and social issues, and this is coming out in the work environment as well," says Anso.

"Having strong corporate social responsibility is now considered one of the top things for companies to concentrate on."

Flexibility around work hours and environment, such as being able to work from home at times, was seen as important to all groups, more women than men ranking it as a significant or desirable factor.

Anso says New Zealand legislation states employers have to consider any reasonable request for flexible working, but often this is not happening. "There is still a mindset that work is permanent, work is full time and work in done in the office," Anso says. "But this is part and parcel of recognising employees as individuals who have individual needs.

"Companies are becoming more holistic in their thinking, encouraging people to bring their whole self to work. It's not just about how people are at work, but also acknowledging you don't leave who you are and what is happening in your life at the door."

- NZ Herald

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