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A generation gap in motivation: what drives so-called Baby Boomers and the Y-generation? And who are they?

There is no need to emphasize the importance of employee satisfaction: how an employee feels within an organization and the extent an employee feels that his or her expertise and work are appreciated have a major effect on his or her attitude to work and performance and these may not only determine the entire quality of life of the employee, but indirectly they may also influence the employer company’s performance and reputation. We have to see, however, that there are major differences between the factors driving the satisfaction and the motivations of generations. We examined the main differences.

Satisfaction with work is important from the perspective of both the organization and the individual. What makes employees satisfied and what prompts them to higher performance differs among generations.

There is professional agreement in that there are currently four generations on the labour markets of economically developed countries:

  •  the generation of so-called Veterans who were born before world war II and are mostly already retired,
  • •the so-called Baby Boomers born in the period between the end of the war to the early 60’s,
  • the X-generation born in the 60’s and 70’s and
  • the Y-generation born from the 80’s who have just entered the labour market.

We compare the above generations in terms of their attitude to technologies, changing of jobs, changes and loyalty as well as management.

Technology

The Veterans stepped through the doors of their first workplaces before the emergence of the first computers and digital technologies it is, therefore, no wonder that they are not familiar with the latest technologies and require constant training in many cases even to keep their current jobs – which they may have had for years, even decades.

The Baby Boomers are also a generation who were not swept away by the digital world while they were young and are also sceptic towards computers and do not easily rely on new technologies and show a general attitude of resistance.

Members of the X generation on the other hand are already confident users of and understand the language of computers.

The Y generation not only understands and likes but in fact demands the latest technology and the fastest possible flow of information. For them, the internet is a basic means of communication and an integral part of their everyday lives. For them an on demand life is normal; they are constantly online both in work and in their lives.

Change of jobs and loyalty

Both Veterans and Baby Boomers typically feel that a change of jobs is a sign of the lack of loyalty or work ethics. There are many examples for careers in which members of the generation currently in their 50-s spent decades at a company in different positions (or even in one and the same position). Their career path was not necessarily about constant rejuvenation. They did not have to live with the dark cloud of losing their jobs over their heads and competitiveness was not a basic requirement. While Baby Boomers are also afraid that a change of jobs may weaken their seniority, for the X and Y generations changing jobs (or positions) is a must for a competitive CV. Younger people are even open to building more than one career at the same time.

For the Y generation changing jobs is a “necessary burden” repeated almost every couple of years. While a couple of years ago, HR experts would have said that one of the indicators of a good employee is the length of time spent with each employer and the number of times he or she changed jobs (fewer changes meant that the employers were satisfied with the candidate and he or she was also pleased to work for each employer). Today, this is not necessarily relevant. This necessary burden is often a part of the employee’s professional and financial progress, constant rejuvenation and a life-long learning process.

Accordingly, loyalty is evident and of high value for the older generations. While loyalty is still a typical characteristic of Baby Boomers, theyare already open towards better job offers but they also accept that work is (unfortunately) often more important than their private lives. The X generation tends to be loyal to individuals and groups, not to companies while members of the Y generation are loyal, above all, to themselves and their personal relationships. Private life enjoys priority over work and this is a substantial difference between the old and the young.

A parallel can be observed between loyalty and changing of jobs and the different attitude of the generations to change. While the older generation is committed to traditions, less flexible and resistant to change, for today’s 20- and 30-year-olds flexibility is a must and they try to make changes work for them.

Management

The generations which grew up and started their careers before the political changes accept and are used to authoritarian management based on seniority (they had no choice in this regard). Although the members of the X generation were born before the political changes, they only started to work in the 80’s and 90’s and therefore have a need for participation-based, democratic structures. Young people born in the 80’s like to think that their involvement in major decisions is obvious and like to have the opportunity of making decisions independently.

There are probably no homogeneous companies employing members of only one age group motivated by the same factors. However, if we take into account the characteristics, the attitude to work and the expectations of the workforce on today’s labour market, this will benefit all colleagues and as a result, the company also.


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