A new study marks out important differences between generations of workers, detailing that older workers might have it better than their successors.
Titled Generational CareerShift and authored jointly by three scholars from different universities, the three-year study examines inter-generational differences in work priorities, career attitudes, career experiences, and career outcomes.
The study divides workers into four generational categories of matures, born on or before1945; baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964; generation Xers, born between 1965 and 1979; and millennials, born in 1980 or later.
The view of career concepts such as career identity and planning varies significantly among the different generations, the study says. For example, matures identify with their careers more than the other generations, while millennials and generation Xers seem to believe they are not in control of their career success. With each successive younger generation, career concepts such as autonomy, independence, entrepreneurial creativity, and dedication become more important.
When it comes to work priorities, millennials put the highest emphasis on aspects leading to self-improvement and social aspects of the workplace. Generation Xers on the other hand want to strike a balance between work and personal life, and boomers and matures put high stakes on “staying relevant” in the workplace.
Millennials have more than twice the number of job changes per year than the other generations, and each successively younger generation has more career moves compared to the one preceding it.
The study, which surveyed over 3,000 Canadians, also shows that with each successively older generation, the level of satisfaction with various aspects of one’s career goes up.
“The idea of looking at careers I think is something that is more important to employers in the last 10 years because we have the baby boomers starting to retire,” says Sean Lyons, one of the authors of the study and an associate professor of business at the University of Guelph.
With even more baby boomers retiring in the next 10 years, employers will have a hard time recruiting and retaining young people to replace them as the approaches used with the older generations might not suit the new generation, Lyons says.
“The standard traditional ways that they approach recruitment and engagement and retention really don’t seem to work with the new generation because of their differences in expectations.”
Millennials have it better than Xers
Lyons says there is not a lot of evidence to show whether the views and experience of the new generation resemble those of the older generations when they were younger. However, for some of the concepts for which there is enough data from all generations, such as career decisions, it is evident that there are significant differences between, for example, how millennials behave today and how matures behaved when they first entered the workforce.
He also says despite the recession and the economic downturn in the global economy today, millennials enjoy more favourable conditions when entering the labour market compared to the generation Xers who faced higher unemployment rates when they were entering the workforce in the early to mid 1990s.
The study outlines a number of different implications for employers based on the results for more effective management of their human resources.
“There are a number of different things that we could take away from this. A lot of what we think is interesting about it is what we learn here about the millennial generation,” says Lyons.
“We see that they’re moving around a lot more relative to other generations, but what we see also is that they don’t express any more desire to move around, so it’s almost as if all of this movement is something that they would prefer not to be doing.”
Employers can move their employees within their own company to keep them satisfied and help them achieve their desired conditions, he says.
The study also suggests companies offer the work priorities that were found to be valued highly by all generations, including concepts such as interesting work and job security.
Employers also need to address the concerns of generation Xers—who reported the lowest levels of satisfaction with their work—since they will be the ones even more critical to the success of organizations as baby boomers retire.