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  • Kate Turner

The generational shift in team motivation that's changing the workplace!

(Is it for the better? You decide!) There is no denying that what motivates people has changed a lot over time. 

In a sense, each generation has become more sophisticated and more demanding in what they want from work, and each generation has built on the one that has gone before. I see this generational change as a simple reflection of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. 

For the ‘baby boomers’, ambition and goal-orientation are paramount. Status, having expertise and perks are valued by this generation. With Generation X, we see more of an entrepreneurial spirit, greater independence and a desire for work-life balance. For them, being promoted because of merit and not on years served are important. Flexibility, recognition from bosses and monetary rewards are all important. And then came the Millennials, who are the most tech savvy generation. Organisational culture is extremely important to this generation, as is collaboration, flexibility and learning opportunities. They regularly seek feedback and are keen to know how they make a difference. We can see this generation as the first to consistently seek self-actualisation (realising one’s full potential) in the workplace, whereas previous generations probably saw this as something to be achieved outside of work. 

How has this impacted on businesses? 

Businesses now are faced with several challenges around motivation. Firstly, how do businesses meet the needs for self-actualisation in the workplace, when businesses have traditionally been rather more focused on profit and targets, than on purpose and meaning? Secondly, with five generations working alongside each other (with Gen Z just making an appearance), how does a business harness the motivation of such a diverse workforce? Now, more than ever, businesses need to get to grips with the individual motivations of its people and not just offer blanket reward packages and opportunities. One thing is for certain, most companies are not yet meeting these challenges – in fact, they are falling woefully short. 

How come we hear so much about Purpose at work now? 

As each generation has been given more confidence to demand that each layer of the Maslow hierarchy be met at work, inevitably we are now seeing more people wanting work itself to have meaning. It has challenged us to ask the question: are we really making the difference that we want to? Are we really having the freedom to work in the ways that we want to? That's why hybrid working caught on initially; because it gave a sense of freedom that was not there before. This taste of freedom has given us the permission to challenge more and more in our lives. 

How has motivation changed over the years? 

Its widely accepted now that intrinsic motivation is more enduring than extrinsic motivation. Dan Pink in his book ‘The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us’ helped educate a generation of mangers to recognise that intrinsic motivators are also more effective too in enabling higher levels of creativity and innovation. He names three motivations as being critical in the workplace – Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. The work of James Sale and his creation of Motivational Maps shows how individual our motivators are and what we can do to access them on a regular basis. He also shows how important it is that we take individual responsibility for our motivators, rather than relying on others to meet them. 

Why is motivation so important in today's fast paced and competitive world? 

Motivation is more important than ever as it is the key to competitive advantage. Put simply, people who are motivated perform better, are more creative and innovative, and build better relationships as they lean into those difficult conversations. And because motivation is contagious, motivated people create happier, more engaged workplaces. 

Get it right and we move beyond engagement and start to impact positively on the human experience of work. Organisations that are taking a more individual approach to meeting motivators are getting a much better return on investment than those that don't. They attract and retain more valuable people and have better safety records too. The results speak for themselves. 

Written by Kate Turner – Founder & Director of Motivational Leadership in collaboration with Blue Gnu Consulting. October 2023.


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