Happiness at work in multi-generation workplaces

Thinkpublic under a Creative Commons license

Throughout history, people from different generations have worked side by side in mines, shops, farms, and factories. But now it is different…

On one hand, as a result of the deep and accelerated changes technology, society, and economy are experiencing, differences between generations in terms of their dominant beliefs, values, preferences, and behavioral patterns are now wider than ever.

On the other hand, as a consequence of the higher life expectancy and declining birth rates, people need to work for longer, so it is increasingly common to find in the workplaces representatives of four (or even five) distinct generations, with different education, experiences, and divergent ways of interpreting the world.

Of course, managing such a complex reality is an enormous challenge for business leaders, but generational diversity can also help an organization interpret its environment more accurately, challenge the traditional way of doing things, and find new formulas to secure its competitiveness. Yet, in many organizations people from different generations don’t understand each other, and often base their relations on stereotypes and clichés…

As a contribution to overcome those prejudices and increase inter-generational awareness let me debunk some myths by sharing some findings from our research at the iOpener Institute about the mindset at work of different generations:

Far from the tired-old-warrior stereotype, our data show that, in general, older employees tend to feel happier, and more motivated at work. They are also more likely to feel they do something worthwhile, and that their jobs have a positive impact on the world.

This is consistent with the fact that they tend to appreciate more the values their organizations stand for, feel more proud of them, and desire to stay longer in their jobs (except, of course, those closer to retirement age). And it seems to confirm the results of a survey recently run by Imperative that revealed that employees over 55 are more purpose-oriented than the members of younger generations.

Also, older employees are more likely to feel they have the opportunity of using their skills at work, and achieving their potential, which, by the way, may be related to the fact that, compared to their younger colleagues, they are not so interested in learning new knowledge and skills.

In addition, our numbers reveal that the older the employees the more they like having challenges at work — maybe because they have discovered the greatness of being in a state of “flow”. And we don’t detect any symptom of “combat fatigue”: the levels of energy at work declared by older employees are comparable to those within the younger cohort.

A reality to keep in mind next time you consider sending one of your older staff members to an elephants’ graveyard…