I often hear human resource professionals and business executives talking about the challenge of dealing with multiple generations in the workforce. How can we motivate and reward our workforce when it’s made up of people from the older generation, the boomers, the Generation X’ers, and the Generations Y’ers or Millenniums – all with different needs and desires? It’s a seemingly impossible quandary. Or is it?
Sure enough research shows that each generation is looking for different rewards.
….The older generation want a secure life
….The boomers want the “good life” of material wellbeing
….The Gen X’ers want a balanced life – to have it all
….The Gen Y’ers want a purposeful life – to have a meaningful life
As a result, companies seem confused about motivation and some scramble to provide rewards that attract and keep motivated the full range of workers.
While all this is true at some level, does it really mean that we can’t create a work organization unified in its purpose and sense of satisfaction and reward? Could it be, in fact, that these generational differences are not hard-wired, but rather the result of the times that each generation has grown up – and represent actually an evolution of motivation?
As Maslow pointed out, we function from different motivational levels depending on what needs are not yet met. When we’re starving, we’re not interested in self-actualization. When the lower needs are met, we tend to rise up to higher level needs.
Could it just be then that those in the older generation – raised by parents who lived through the depression have ingrained in them the struggle for physical survival, whereas the boomers come out of a generation of parents who were enjoying newfound (relative) material wellbeing?
Likewise, now that physical survival is no longer an issue – with life expectancies having increased by several decades in the last Century and starvation not a real threat to most people in the developed world, other higher needs/goals take precedence. These higher needs manifest in a desire for work that is meaningful and serves a higher purpose. That is a remarkable and positive development and bodes well for the evolution of Humanity.
The question then is: can people whose motivation was formed in earlier times adapt to and become part of this emerging work culture? And can business owners and leaders bring these generations into one work force for the benefit of their company’s customers and employees?
I believe the answer is yes. When a company stresses its higher purpose and builds a culture of inclusion, mutual respect, and personal as well as professional growth, then commitment and excitement for the company – and why it exists, what it stands for, and the roles that employees have to help it succeed become a powerful and unifying force.
Such a company is a kind of Noble Enterprise that uplifts people and in the process profits. As such it is both a reflection of the newer, higher purpose of many people – young and old – and is a vehicle for raising these levels of motivation of others involved in the company.