Ditching preconceptions and treating people as, well, people
Popular media tells us that today’s workplace, with up to five generations working side by side, stand divided by generational differences. To decide once and for all if there is any truth to these claims, we took an inside look at a recent Sodexo study to work out if there's any substance behind these stereotypes.
Where is the common ground?
We hear it often: Millennials are spoiled and entitled, Gen Xers are sceptical and negative, Baby Boomers live for their jobs, and technology is lost on Traditionalists. While it can be easy to accept these sweeping generalisations, when we take a closer look, we find that generations actually have a lot in common – especially in terms of their quality of life expectations in the workplace.
In fact, we conducted a study across five countries comparing Millennials and non-Millennials in the workplace and found that the top six expectations of each group were the same:
1. Security and protection for my future, health and family
2. Manage own time/work-life balance
3. Monetary recognition for personal contribution
4. Career development, regular and ongoing feedback
5. Personal development inside as well as outside of the workplace
Researchers at the University of North Carolina came to the same conclusion when their study revealed that Millennials, Gen Xers and Baby Boomers all seek work-life integration, the chance to work on challenging projects, the opportunity to advance professionally, fair treatment and competitive compensation. Similarly, a 2015 IBM Institute for Business Value survey also showed very little difference between generations – claiming that generations share the same motivational factors as well as opinions of the workplace.
Breaking through the stereotypes
According to generational experts, the distinctions that we do see in the workplace have more to do with individual expectations rather than overall generational expectations. Furthermore, these differences tend to align more with one’s stage in life rather than one’s year of birth.
A generational difference implies something about the members of a cohort that persists over their life. But there is a lot of evidence that workplace differences are not generational - Peter Cappelli, Director of Wharton School's center for human resources
In other words, this notion of stage, and not age, is quite important when companies reflect on what motivates individual employees in the workplace. Thinking about it from a logical perspective, when workers are beginning their careers, they want different things, especially opportunities to learn and advance. In the middle of their careers, because of family needs typically, they might need money and stability; by the end of their careers, they are looking for different things yet again, perhaps personal enrichment.
One aspect of today’s working world that seems to unite everyone – across generations and cultures – is the need for more balance between work and life. It was also a common theme in the Sodexo study – and for good reason: it is important to everyone.
Many cite the 'always connected' culture as a reason for negatively affecting work/life balance, when reaching employees is easier than it ever has been. So some staff to manage their time more effectively, are seeking out new ways to find a balance, and companies need to consider this when designing their recognition and rewards strategies.
Personalisation rules over standardisation
In order for companies to be truly successful in the multigenerational workforce, they must go beyond the stereotypes and get to know their employees, understand their quality of life expectations and discover what motivates them. From there, organisations can create tailored benefits and offers instead of blanket policies.
Businesses can often talk in collective terms about their people, referring to them as teams, workforces and staff. But employees are individuals, and not only that, they want to be looked at as a whole person – with personal interests and hobbies – not just someone who clocks in from 9 to 5.
Sodexo has found a way to address this individuality through its large scope of employees benefits. The benefits and rewards programme is based on employees’ interests and challenges and allows employees to choose the most relevant to them. This flexibility and opportunity in the workplace doesn’t just meet the needs of multiple generations, but supports all employee’s growth and development, as well as their quality of life.
The generational diversity that is so abundant in today’s workplace requires companies to take the time and invest in understanding what matters most to employees. Knowing where employees are in their careers and lives, and their related needs, can help to create a happy – and well engaged – multigenerational workforce.