How to Establish a Strong Workplace with 5 Generations of Employees

For the first time, small businesses are selling to and employing 5 generations at a time – each with very specific motivations and inspirations. From a sales standpoint, we know that to be successful selling, we must learn how to ‘speak’ to each generation in our marketing. The same holds true when it comes to managing these different generations in the workplace. As the recent Staples Business Advantage Workplace Index uncovered, one size does not fit all when it comes to their needs in the workplace and in order for employers to create the most productive and happy environment, they will need to put stereotypes aside and understand what employees are looking for at work.

According to the index, 46 percent of Baby Boomers are motivated by having a sense of purpose at work. In contrast, only 32 percent of GenX’ers and 24 percent of Millennials are motivated by purpose.

“The second annual Staples Business Advantage Workplace Index uncovers different challenges companies need to consider when managing the growing multi-generational workplace. To attract and retain top talent, organizations must be aware of what each generation uniquely needs to be happy and productive.” -Neil Ringel, executive vice president, Staples Business Advantage, North America.

Defining the Generations

For those who are unsure of the breakdown of each generation, here’s a quick guide:

  • Generation Z: Under 18 years old
  • Generation Y (also known as Millennials): 18 to 33 years old
  • Generation X: 34 to 50 years old
  • Baby Boomers: 51 to 70 years old
  • Silent Generation (also known as the Greatest Generation): over 70 years old

Each generation has different values, motivators, and inspirations. As the index revealed, an employer’s ability to understand these is crucial to developing a productive and happy workplace. Because while all generations have their specific wants and needs, the one thing they all have in common is the thought that working in a five generation workplace has great benefits.

“It’s promising that all generations said they think working in a five generation workplace is more fun, creative, inspiring, trusting, and fosters an environment of learning. Managing five generations poses a challenge for employers, and as Gen Z continues to enter the workplace in larger numbers, it’s critical for organizations to ensure they understand their workforce’s needs.”-Jacob Morgan, best-selling author of The Future of Work, Futurist, and Co-founder of the Future of Work Community.

How the Generations Differ

The index reveals some interesting information about each generation. Let's take a look at three specific areas: Motivation and Inspiration, Physical Office Space and Design, and Wellness and Productivity.

Motivation and Inspiration

As we noted above, Baby Boomers take the lead in being motivated by having a sense of purpose at work. Interestingly, both Gen X and Millennials ranked salary as their key motivator. While Gen X ranked sense of purpose as their second motivator, for the Millennials, passion took the second spot.

Another high motivator for Millennials was the ability to work from home, where they feel most inspired and comfortable. This is a key factor that should be considered by employees.

Physical Office Space and Design

All generations agreed that aesthetics in the office are a key and would like more attention paid to office design in the workplace. They all also agreed that natural light is a desirable feature.

Baby Boomers and Gen X enjoy private workspaces, cubicles and ergonomic furniture, while Millennials are more interested in standing desks, open floor plans, and open lounge areas. As an employer, consider having flexible spaces that meet the needs of each group to ensure a higher level of comfort and productivity.

5 generations in the workplace

Wellness and Productivity

The availability of a wellness program was attractive to all generations but most important to Millennials (62 percent). While each group fees they can't get up from their desks to take a break because they have too much work to do, 80 percent of each group agrees that taking a break makes them feel more productive throughout the day. Employers should factor this into the structure of the day by offering comfortable break rooms stocked with healthy snacks and drinks that encourage employees to take those much-needed breaks to recharge.

By understanding these key differences, employers can better manage their employees and design a workplace that is most beneficial for all. Happy employees do, after all, lead to more productive employees and a more successful business.

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