Feature Article - July/August 2009

Generation Gaps

Another Look at What Drives Motivation

By Rick Dandes


s recruiting, retaining and motivating highly talented employees of all ages becomes ever more critical to an organization, managers have been empowered to attract, retain and develop multi-generational talent and to acquire the necessary skills to ensure corporate success.

For the first time in our history, the U.S. workforce is comprised of people from four generations that at times spans more than 50 years.

Never before has there been such a diverse group in the corporate population. Working side-by-side are traditionalists, employees who are of the so-called Silent Generation (born from 1920 to 1945), baby boomers (born 1946 to 1967), generation X (born 1965 to 1980) and generation Y, also known as the millennials (born 1981 to 2000).

But as employee populations change—as baby boomers retire, gen X'ers are promoted to management and millennials are hired into junior roles—incentives and rewards will need to reflect this demographic shift to motivate performance, maximize employee potential and boost a company's competitive edge.

So how can you make sure that all these generations work well together?

Start by knowing what makes each generational group tick. You have to understand what each generation values and what motivates them at work and at play, in order to learn how to tap those motivations to make all your employees work well together.

The Silent Generation, or Traditionalists

Millions of Americans age 55 and over are either still working or are seeking work. In one AARP study of mature workers, 40 percent to 50 percent of those polled said they would work past retirement age if offered flexible schedules, part-time and temporary employment. They liked the idea of re-entering the job market or keeping a foot in the labor pool. These days as well, many workers continue past retirement because they have to, strictly for financial reasons.

Employees who fall into this age group have generally had predictable career paths, working hard for one or two companies and moving up the ladder of success. They are characterized by their dedication to their employer, and as a group are considered to be non-risk-takers and conformers. They are less willing to spend money on themselves, so non-cash recognition is key. They prefer flexible schedules, health and fitness opportunities, entertainment venues and technology items.

For the silent generation, the more formal and public the recognition, the better. One way to publicly recognize and motivate this group might be to take photographs of top performers as they are being congratulated by the company president and then hang the pictures in the lobby, or to write articles about their achievements to print in the employee newsletter. Some companies engrave a plaque with the names of employees who have reached 10, 15, 20 or more years of service and display it prominently.

Workers of the silent generation are pioneers of the team approach, and they value programs that recognize the contributions and successes of teams. More than any other group, these workers value incentives that help them to plan for the future.