How to keep different generations motivated on the shop floor has been a burning issue in both theory and practice for a long time. In particular, set against the backdrop of lengthening careers, research into the conditions under which we can achieve our full potential throughout a lifelong career has become a pressing issue. The ramifications of this are serious. There are plenty of prevailing popular notions (read: stereotypes) about the different generations, ranging from the spoilt and narcistic millennial to the jaded 50-year-old, which can sometimes lead to counterfactual organizational policy.
The Next Generation Work Expertise Center has looked into several conditions determining employee motivation at work, based on data collected with the NWOW coalition in 2016. They also examined whether different generations attach similar importance to different aspects of their jobs. They compared three generations: 18 to 25 years, 26-50 years and 51 years and over. The findings were presented at EAWOP, the European Association of Work and Organizational Psychology.
David Stuer, researcher at the Expertise Center, says: “The research suggests greatest factor in determining sustainable working motivation is the meaningfulness of work. Meaningfulness was determined by a person’s autonomy in their job, the prospects that the job offers and mostly the way in which a job fulfills personal needs. Since personal needs vary widely from one individual to the next, this is also an argument in favor of made-to-measure solutions. Personal needs are not just about the carrying out of one’s job tasks, but can be about less directly job-related issues, such as work/life balance. A somewhat surprising conclusion was that no practical differences were found between the different generations. This suggests that structuring an HR department along generational lines is in fact a pointless exercise and that, when it comes to keeping people motivated at work, the most worthwhile approach is to focus on individuals”.