Relationship: The Key to Motivating Different Generations

There has been a great deal of research and discussion about the differences between the various generations over the past several years.  Three generational groups make up todays workforce and while there is some disagreement as to what birth year ranges make up each, the following can be used for our discussion; Baby Boomers (1943 - 1960); Generation-X (1960 - 1981); Generation-Y (1982 - 2001).  While Baby Boomers have been the primary supervisory group for the last couple of decades, they are now retiring and Gen-X’ers and older Gen-Y’ers are moving into those positions in larger numbers.  So is understanding generations important? Research findings have not always been consistent, but in general, findings have indicated that Baby Boomers are motivated by money and title, Gen-X’ers by freedom to do their thing, and Gen-Y’ers by meaningful work.  We would argue that this information is particularly useful at the bigger, systemic level (HR policies and systems), but is less useful at the individual level.  Treating all members of a generational group as homogeneous - all motivated in the same way - would make us generally bad at motivating specific people.

The best supervisors treat their employees as individuals rather than members of a generational group, and establish relationships with each employee based on knowledge of the person.  We can all be motivated by money, title, freedom and meaningful work depending on the stage of life and the goals that we have set for ourselves.  Those good at motivating others understand this and attempt to “know” each employee’s desires and use this information to create a relationship that works to capitalize on what each individual hopes to accomplish.

Money may be more important as a person starts a family or approaches retirement.  Freedom and creativity may be more important as a person is attempting to define him/herself.  Meaningful work may be more important as a person is attempting to determine what occupation they will choose.   I am a “Boomer” who wants more money for retirement, likes the title that I have achieved, the freedom to do my work independently and I certainly want to do only what is meaningful to me and valuable to my company and my clients.  Best Bosses don’t look at employees as generational members, but as individuals who desire to be successful - and they make the effort to understand each employees’ definition of success.