A new study has debunked stereotypes about workers of different generations and shown they may have more in common than we think.
Rather than revealing a generation gap in attitudes between Generation Y, Generation X, Baby Boomers and Veterans, the Massey University doctoral thesis found workers of all ages wanted a satisfying job, quality of life, good workmates and a supportive boss.
Researcher Kristin Murray said she began the study several years ago when working in a call centre, with mostly 20-something staff in their first job. "There was quite a different culture and behaviour from the rest of the business, where people were in their mid-30s," she said.
But her research found those cultural differences weren't reflected in underlying values and motivations.
Her study, published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Human Resources, asked 169 people to answer 69 questions about what they valued in an ideal job.
Only eight questions showed a significant difference in responses between the generations.
The greatest generation gap in attitudes was between Veterans, born between 1925 and 1945, and Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964.
Boomers and Gen X-ers were most alike.
Gen Y respondents had some surprising priorities, including security of income.
Dr Murray, a 44-year-old Gen X-er, said the study focused on values, so there could still be differences in behaviour between age groups.
And while workers of all ages wanted a "supportive manager" that may mean different things for different ages, with some wanting independence and others seeking regular feedback.
Dr Murray, who works as an executive manager for Wellington Free Ambulance, said the key lesson for employers was not to make assumptions based on age.
"You actually just need to manage that person as an individual and find out what it is that motivates them."
Jason Walker, New Zealand managing director for recruitment company Hays, said his company's research showed there were differences between the generations.
Mr Walker said Gen Y were more risk-taking in their careers, and were willing to move on quicker from their current employer.
They were also technologically savvy, used to fast-paced results, and "will not start at the bottom by getting the tea and coffee."
"While Baby Boomers believed if they worked hard and did a good job their employer would look after them, and Generation X are content to work their way up the corporate ladder as long as they continue to learn and expand their skills, Generation Y need to be continually challenged and see a clear path of progression, or they will go elsewhere."
Mr Walker said Gen Y workers also saw flexibility and work-life balance as important; they wanted to enjoy life while maintaining a successful career.
- Veterans, those born between 1925 and 1945
- Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964
- Gen X, born between 1965 and 1981
- Gen Y, born between 1982 and 1994