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What does your workforce REALLY want from you?

Adapted from a post by James and Joseph Sale on January 30, 2023.

The Creative Director of Motivational Maps talks about what really motivates the generations. Over the next few weeks I will share his thoughts on each generation here.

One topic that I frequently see discussed by top-level management is how to bridge the “generation gap”. It’s a very valid question, because even if there weren’t studies and surveys telling us there has been a dramatic shift in what people want—and expect—from work, most of us have observed this change in action in the workplace.

The kind of incentives that appeal to the Baby Boomer generation simply don’t appeal in the same way to Generation Z, and vice versa.

It can be difficult when talking about the generation gap to see the picture clearly—and even more difficult to see what to do about it. This is because, firstly, we naturally tend to have a bias towards our own generation and its context.

And secondly, we usually base our models of good practice on what the existing workplace culture is. We take cues from this existing culture and it becomes the “norm” which we expect others coming into the culture to acclimate to. We forget that the culture may be very abnormal for them!

If we are able to take a step back, and look at each generation in turn, however, then we can more readily identify what they might want or find motivating.

Of course, ultimately the best way to ensure we know what our employees want is to find out their individual wants and needs using Motivational Maps, and to treat each person as unique. But we recognise that this is not always actionable or practical, especially in larger corporate settings.

Therefore, it can be easier to group employees into categories. In this case, by generation.

However, we must bear in mind the motivational correlations we’re about to suggest should not be regarded as stereotypes or absolutes, merely as guidelines, indicative of an overall trend.

Sometimes these trends can help us to get started on the path of understanding our employees and meeting their needs and wants (thereby incentivising them to stay), and we can fine-tune to a greater and more specific degree later on! So, without further ado, here is our four-part motivational analysis of the generation gap! Stay tuned over the coming weeks for each new instalment. First up are the Baby Boomers.

Baby Boomers: ‘46 – ‘64

WHAT BOOMERS CAN OFFER: Optimism is not a trait that easily correlated with any particular motivator. In fact, from a Motivational Maps standpoint, optimism is actually an indicator of high levels of motivation. One possible implication of this data, therefore, is that the Boomer generation in general are more highly motivated that other generations. And high motivation in turn means high productivity.

As controversial as this might be for some, I think many would agree that the Boomer generation have an outstanding work ethic. The very fact many Boomers are still working, given on average they will have gone beyond retirement age, is testament to that fact! But from where does this work ethic derive? We don’t have space here to fully explore the complex environmental, societal, cultural, and contextual factors that may have influenced this, but we can comment upon what it may indicate motivationally speaking.

By far the most energetic motivator is the Builder. The Builder is competitive, likes money and material gain, and will work relentlessly to reach that number one spot. Given that Boomers were born shortly after the Great Depression and the deprivation of the Second World War, it is perhaps no wonder that there is a strong desire here to strive for wealth and prosperity. The third trait is that they enjoy mentoring, or in other words, passing on their knowledge. This is certainly correlated to the Expert motivator, which is all about the acquisition and dissemination of information and knowledge. What’s interesting is that both of these motivators, Expert and Builder, sit in the Achievement cluster, which is work and career focused (again, reminding us of that strong work ethic).

Of course, the danger here is not making room for family and social time, and not seeking to develop the self outside of work.

WHAT BOOMERS WANT: But what do Boomers want in exchange for their high energy, high motivation, and high expertise?

For Boomers, it’s about loyalty—they want a long term relationship with an employer. I don’t want to jump the gun too much, but we’ll see that this is in sharp contrast with other generations, such as Gen X and Millennials, who prefer flexibility.

The Boomer’s desire for job security correlates with the Defender motivator. Defenders like predictability, they like to know what’s coming down the pipeline so they can prepare for it. So, it’s likely when working with Boomers that they will desire some assurance of long term employment. Coupled with this is an appreciation of hierarchical structures; again, this is in sharp contrast to subsequent generations!

There are several motivators that correlate to hierarchy. Defender is one (Defenders don’t mind being told what to do, so long as the guidance is clear).

The Star, who wants recognition, and likes to receive that recognition from the “top dog” (because that makes them a top dog too!).

Then there’s The Director, who likes to have control of people and resources. Put a more gentle way, they like to understand the spans and scope of responsibility.

What emerges from this is one key word: clarity. Boomers (in general) want to know where they are in the pecking order, what they have to do, and who they have to defer to.

By making these things clear, you’ll be potentially making your organisation very attractive to this particular generation of workers.

That about does it for Boomers. In the next article, we’ll be looking at Generation X. As we shall see, their motivational trends look very different. Stay tuned for more information on closing the generation gap!

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