Motivating GenY: Generational Differences in Work Values

Topic: Motivation
Publication: Journal of Management (SEP 2010)
Article: Generational differences in work values: Leisure and extrinsic values increasing, social and intrinsic values decreasing
Authors: J. M. Twenge, S. M. Campbell, B. J. Hoffman, and C. E. Lance
Reviewed By: Lauren Wood

The U.S. workforce is primarily comprised of 3 generations of workers – Baby Boomers (born between 1946-1964), GenX (1965-1981), and GenY (1982-1999). Although empirical research examining differences in generational work values is scarce, understanding differences between these 3 groups is important for organizations attempting to recruit and manage the youngest generation in the workforce – GenY.

The current study assessed generational differences in work values (leisure, social interactions, intrinsic rewards, extrinsic rewards, and altruism) which motivate employees to perform on the job. The results reveal that organizations may need to implement different strategies in order to successfully motivate GenY employees. For example, compared to Baby Boomers and GenX, GenY workers are more likely to value leisure activities (time off, work-life balance, flextime) and less likely to value social interactions (work friendships, team work). When examining workplace rewards, GenY seem to be are more motivated by extrinsic rewards (tangible rewards) than by intrinsic rewards (intangible rewards).

No generational differences resulted for altruistic values (helping people, bettering society).    

Taken together, the results show that different generations are motivated by different work values –  suggesting that organizational strategies used in the past to recruit and manage Baby Boomers and GenX employees may not be as effective for GenY employees. What can organizations do to successfully recruit and manage GenY employees? One way is to reward employees extrinsically (bonuses, raises, prestigious positions / project assignments) instead of intrinsically (employee development, learning, and growth, interesting assignments). Additionally, providing employees with more leisure time (work-life balance programs, telecommuting options, compressed work week schedules) may help increase motivation as well as decrease burnout.  

Twenge, J. M., Campbell, S. M., Hoffman, B. J., Lance, C. E. (2010). Generational differences in work values: Leisure and extrinsic values increasing, social and intrinsic values decreasing. Journal of Management, 36, 1117-1142.