Employee Motivation in 2017: Are Handy Generational Labels Losing Value?

Young business team in a meeting discussing progress of the company. Creative professionals sitting around a table in office.

No one’s a generation-bot.  As organizational leaders assess employee engagement, or lack of it, that recognition will help.

Millennials have won some real trophies. Back to that near the end of this 1.3-minute read. ;-|

My clients who are planning their 2017 team retreats share a few big concerns this year, most of them around employee engagement. We’re talking about motivation, work ethic and communication, and about the relationships between team members of the Millennial, Gen X and Baby Boomer generations.

Anyone who’s obsessed with behavior, as I am, can be fascinated by classifications, and, why not? That’s how science begins to observe and understand phenomena.  It’s enlightening to identify general human differences such as extroversion vs. introversion, for example, or preferences for risk-taking vs. caution, action over deliberation, or big picture over details.  I advocate the informed use of tested temperament and strengths inventories; they engage participants in fruitful, practical conversations. Plus, they’re fun.

All of this is most helpful if we also stress that each person is a unique combination of those classifiable influences.  Same goes for looking at the vastly different cultural and social environments of each generation. On a working team, we want to appreciate what the individual has done with these environmental influences.

People of all age cohorts . . .

  • vary on scores of social, educational, political, ethical and cultural matters.
  • can become more individually diverse, and less like our age mates, as we get older and as we acquire separate, varied life experiences.
  • whether male or female, might prefer to process information first with their heads, or, by checking their feelings first.
  • of Asian, Latino or Irish backgrounds can be hard-charging pragmatists; and they can be patient consensus-builders.

No one is a generation-bot. Leaders of any age can inspire motivation in workers at all life stages with that in mind.

Every trophy ever earned by a Millennial is not engraved with the word “Participation”.  If we never tire of focusing on that one aspect of the culture handed to them by parents, coaches and teachers, then we discount the wins they’ve earned with talent, discipline and, hmm, hard work.

I get no originality trophy for mentioning that people respond with enthusiasm wherever they can express their individuality and win. Create that environment, get great performance. Obvious?  Well, as any employer (or dieter, or would-be ex-smoker) will tell you:  obvious doesn’t mean easy, and it doesn’t mean effortless. If it did, everything would be so easy. And so dull.