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Motivating a multigenerational workforce

Imanjit Narwan | 23.07.2019

Motivation is directly linked to workplace productivity and performance, and when we become unmotivated, we are less likely to spend time putting effort in our jobs, produce low quality work and may even try to avoid the workplace. (Ganta, 2014). Research shows that different generations are driven by different motivational forces and since generational differences are present in most organisations, it is important to understand how to appropriately motivate your employees to gain optimum employee satisfaction and performance from all (Calk & Patrick, 2017).

It's expected that by 2020, half of the workforce will be Generation Y (born 1981 – 1996) and following these millennials will be the Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) at 22% and then at 20% will be Generation X (born 1965 - 1980). Generation Z (born 1997-present) are currently newly entering the workforce and shall increase to 7% by 2020. And finally, the traditionalists (born 1928 – 1945) will decrease down to 1%, only making up a small proportion of the workforce (Gurchiek, 2016).

Considering that out of the 5 generations Millennial's are currently contributing as the majority generation in the workforce, we may believe that we should be investing in fulfilling their motivational needs the most. To some extent yes, as we need to better understand what motivates millennials to ensure that this majority are happily engaging with their work and being productive within their organisations. This can be achieved by investing in their development, always incorporating them into the bigger picture and giving them a bit more freedom. However, we need to equally ensure that the needs of the other generations are not neglected when focusing on one generation and that each individual's needs are also listened to. So how do we motivate a multigenerational workforce?

Being aware of each generation's motivational preferences is a good place to start and having a good understanding of this will assist the approach you take when motivating your employees. Symbiotics offer a Motivation Drivers questionnaire which can help identify to what level the ten key motivational factors drive an individual to support your understanding of the motivational preferences of each team member, regardless of their generation.

  • Traditionalists tend to be individuals who are motivated by money, but also feel the need to be respected.
  • Baby Boomers seem to be driven monetary rewards but also value nonmonetary rewards, for example, they like having the option to have a flexible retirement plan and also like receiving recognition from their peers for their work.
  • Generation X appear to value monetary rewards like bonuses, but also like to have flexibility within their working life as well.
  • Millennials tend to be motivated by some monetary rewards, but also value receiving feedback, being further driven by training opportunities to develop their skills and progress in their career and working amongst a workplace with a good culture.
  • Generation Z seem to be more interested in social rewards, receiving constant feedback, having meaningful work to complete and being given more responsibility, rather than being money driven.

Furthermore, something that is appreciated by individuals from all generations is when a healthy work life balance is promoted and when employees are allowed to be more flexible with their work life approach. Employees tend to feel less stressed and be more engaged with their work and thus, increasing their motivation levels. It may also be considered wise to encourage employees to develop their personal growth and by taking time to understand their individual aspirations to help them progress where is most meaningful for them, which should also make them want to perform well. In the workplace, investing in their growth through implementing mentoring schemes and even reverse mentorship programmes can be seen as a useful method to develop employees. This way you are ensuring that you are sharing expertise from differing generations and allowing the development a more united workplace culture.

However, these are just a few suggestions on how to motivate a multigenerational workforce and there are plenty of other techniques that can be researched and applied to affectively motivate employees. It is down to each organisation to decide which motivators suits their workplace culture best and implement these accordingly to ensure employees are reaching their potential.

Calk, R., & Patrick, A. (2017). Millennials through the looking glass: Workplace motivating factors. The Journal of Business Inquiry, 16(2), 131-139.
Ganta, V. C. (2014). Motivation in the workplace to improve the employee performance. International Journal of Engineering Technology, Management and Applied Sciences, 2(6), 221-230.
Gurchiek, K. (2016). What Motivates Your Workers? It Depends on Their Generation.