Could embracing generational nuances be the key to a high performing workforce?

Written by
Changeboard Team

21 Sep 2015

21 Sep 2015 • by Changeboard Team

The importance of motivation

We can broadly define motivation as the process that drives our goal-orientated behaviours. Motivation causes us to act, it enables us to achieve. If we are disengaged, our motivation is low and we’re in survival territory.

The correlation is almost absolutely aligned; increased motivation is a consequence of increased engagement in any process or job.

Whilst few would disagree, the debate as to what gives our brains that motivational spark is harder to answer. Employers know that getting motivation right means increased focus, engagement and ultimately increased profits, but each generation is (in part) empowered differently.

The ages of motivation

Today, knowing how to categorise these differences into groups is highly debated, but in broad terms we have Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millenials/GenY. The prospect of Generation Z entering the workplace over the next decade will no doubt throw up new challenges.

Employers need to recognise that generations, and resultant trends from generational behaviour, requires a tailored reward approach to suit (at least in part) the individual in order to maximise engagement. Maximum motivation provides the best opportunity to maximise performance. 

It sounds like common sense, but that does not always provide for a straightforward outcome.  

For some employees, cash will be the big motivator, for others, a package linked to the highs and lows of the stock market. The list goes on: a big pension; a sense of social wellbeing; more time off; a sabbatical; to be happy come what may; to have a job aligned to your hobbies and interests; to be 10 minutes from your front door; to work part-time; to work a nine day fortnight; to work remotely; to work in a company with superb future career prospects; to work for an empowering boss.

The easy answer is that these options all sound pretty good and many individuals would say ‘yes, thank you I’ll have a bit of all of the above’. Of course, the reality is somewhat different, as very few employers are able to offer that golden mix of motivational factors.  

Not only that, but different people at different stages of their life will place different levels of importance on those factors, at a basic level for example; someone saving for a house deposit can probably tolerate sitting in an office with a leaky roof and people they dislike with a passion, whilst they are saving. Whereas someone who has paid off their mortgage is perhaps ready to focus more on the ethics and happiness their job gives them, ahead of the cash bonus they might receive.

What should companies do?

Companies, as ever, are under huge cost pressures and employee packages are a significant part of this. Business leaders are under pressure to balance motivating their workforce through rewarding them well, whilst remaining competitive and turning a profit. Get this wrong and the business will fail, it’s that simple.  

Ultimately, employers need to harness internal management information - market and anecdotal data - to accurately find that common ground in base pay that bonds “the deal” between employee and employer fairly. This is the foundation and companies can then layer the benefits and variable offering to help meet the differing demands of the various generations.   

Generation Y may care less about pensions and more about aspects geared about the here and now, such as short term recognition or spot bonuses towards a housing deposit. Baby boomers are more overtly planning for retirement and generation X more demanding of agile working to fit around hectic family life.

All too often, money is presumed to be the answer to motivate and retain employees, but generally speaking, it isn’t. Companies need to look at embracing agile workforces, improved recognition strategies, promoting remote working, quality of working environment. 
The power of trusting your workforce to manage working lives with their home lives in a more integrated and agile fashion is a hugely motivating factor both today and also essential to embed culturally in preparation for generation Z.

If corporates can manage this motivational mix effectively, then employee push for higher salaries will decrease, costs will be saved through higher engagement and business performance will improve. 

One final thought, which underpins all of the generations, inspirational leadership is the biggest intangible motivator. Combine this with a generationally aware reward strategy, and it presents a truly compelling combination.