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The Multigenerational Workforce: Why Work?

This is the first of a series of blogs done on how the generations differ in the worklace based on a survey conducted by the author. Read more about the survey.

By Verity Bissett-Powell

Verity Bissett-PowellIn 1992, Tang and Tzeng found that as age increased, reported work ethic decreased, suggesting that younger workers projected higher work ethics than older workers. Younger workers’ passion for work does not come from a practical need but a personal desire for fulfilment: “If I never had to earn money ever again, I'd still work. It's important to me to engage with others, explore the world, and develop myself… which I do through work.” Across the X and Y generations a startling 86% disagreed with the statement that - Work is required to pay bills, nothing more. Ironic considering that these generations have also been labelled the “slacker” generation. These high percentages contrast with the slightly lower 65% of boomers and 50% of Traditionals who also disagreed with the statement.

Now you cannot automatically link the attitude towards employment with the work ethics, but these statistics hint at some of the generational differences of opinion towards work / life balance.

The comments from the question, what does work / life balance mean to you in theory, and in reality?, are interesting in light of the above data. The Traditionals and Baby Boomers seem to have a greater grasp on the 9-5 concept: “I am not a surgeon, nor do I save people's lives.  I need to leave work and have a life outside.  If I didn't want that, I would've been a doctor.” There is a more regimented approach to work which involves arriving, working hard during your assigned hours, and then leaving for time at home.

The younger employees however seek “an environment with fluid boundaries” where they can remove the conflict between work and life in a more organic working approach: “Being able to go to office when I want to. I will always deliver, regardless of whether I am in office or not.” When looking at the fervour for satisfying work and high working ethic, it is fair to evaluate that younger workers will get the job done, it’s just that they might prefer to do a 10-7 working day or  complete some tasks using a PDA while on the move. Some organisations are adapting their job requirements to appeal to the younger generation as part of recruiting campaigns. For example, instead of simply stressing higher salaries, the international company Procter and Gamble is highlighting the opportunity for flexible hours, the chance to work from home, the offer of up to a year of 'family leave' to look after children or elderly parents, and the promise of regular three-month sabbaticals. With global corporations needing 24/7 responses, this flexible approach to work can actually help meet the needs of colleagues and customers – with younger generations working as and when is needed.

Read the entire Multi-generational series.

Verity Bissett-Powell is a business development executive with DDI in the United Kingdom. 

Posted: 25 May, 2011