How To Understand What Matters Most To Different Generations in the Workplace

Employee Satisfaction Surveys | Employee Experience | PeopleMetrics LIVE

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Trusted Experience Management Partners

How To Understand What Matters Most To Different Generations in the Workplace

How do you manage generational differences in the workplace? Start by finding out what they are! Instead of wondering how Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X and Baby Boomers differ from one another at work, ask your multigenerational workforce what matters most to them with employee experience surveys that consider generational differences.

Once you know where you stand with your employees, you're well on your way to embracing generational diversity in the workplace. Survey results allow you to take action and start delivering positive employee experiences across generations at your organization.


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Sean: Generation Z, Millennials, Generation X and then Boomers. Last year, we went out to really understand what are those factors that are driving the engagement of each one of those generations that are working right now? I'm really excited to share this. I think it's something that not enough companies are doing. Too many of these surveys are assuming that everything applies equally to every person, no matter what their generation or perspective, and it's simply not true.

Madeline: Hi everyone! Welcome to PeopleMetrics LIVE! Today, we are talking about how to understand what matters most to different generations in the workplace by using employee experience survey questions that consider generational differences. If you've got questions for our team, please drop them in the comments below and we'll be sure to answer them. So Sean, we have walked through our framework for measuring the employee experience before -- actually, in a previous session of PeopleMetrics LIVE!, which you can watch on YouTube. So can you tell us a little more about how these questions we're going to talk about today that are geared towards different generations fit into the larger picture of measuring employee experience?

Sean: Yeah, definitely. You know, employee experience -- or employee engagement as they called it, employee satisfaction back in the day... That's been measured for a long time, right? And people tend to ask a lot of questions on these type surveys, and probably too many, frankly. So let me just take a step back in history. So 20 years ago, we would ask hundreds of questions in these surveys, and frankly that's just too much time, effort, energy from your people to provide the feedback. And then there were some offers that were much shorter -- you know, just a handful of questions. And they tended to be much more well received. But there really hasn't been an update, I didn't think, to that approach in a long time. So last year, we went out to a representative sample of United States full-time workers, and we went out with independent research, and tried to figure out what was really driving the behavior and experience of employees in today's age. And as part of that, we did a deep dive on the four generations that are working right now -- Generation Z, Millennials, Generation X and then Boomers. We took a separate look at the data to really understand what are those factors that are driving the engagement of each one of those generations separately? And I'm really excited to share this. I think it's something that not enough companies are doing. Too many of these surveys are assuming that everything kind of applies equally to every person to no matter what their generation or perspective, and it's simply not true. We're going to get into some of these factors, but it's like a classic segmentation of your base of people that you're trying to understand. Very rarely is there one segment in any market, and employees -- your employees are an example of a market. Right, Kirk? You've done a lot of customer work too. It's just something that makes a lot of sense to do deep dives like this.

Kirk: Yeah, absolutely. And I think it's important as a company... you want to get the big picture. You won't say, "here's the overall findings from our employee study," but you don't want to just apply that same overall picture to every group assuming everything is the same. And so it's important, exactly as you're saying, to do that segmentation and to say, "you know, we have different generations, we have different groups within our organization that have different roles and responsibilities... So even though we have an overall employee engagement picture, we need to know how each group needs to act on that in order to improve their experience."

Sean: And if we have managers in the audience or watching on YouTube who have managed over a long period of time and have managed different generations and multiple people within different generations, I almost guarantee you they're thinking to themselves, "This is absolutely right," because the way I manage a Generation Z is different from a Millennial is different from a Generation X and it's different from a Boomer. It's just reality, and I've done it too. Like I've had this company 20 years and I've managed a lot of different people, and it just isn't the same. They don't have the same triggers, they don't have the same values in some ways and what's really important to them... I strongly advise you asking questions outside the core, and we're going to introduce the core model again, right, Madeline, in a second...

Madeline: Yeah.

Sean: Our core questions are important for everybody, and I think that's something to always keep in mind. What we're talking about is adding supplemental questions in your survey that tie to different generations and making sure that they're accounted for, their voice. And we can talk a little bit about tactically how you do that, but I'd rather first just look at the questions themselves, and then we can talk about implementation maybe a little later.

Madeline: Sure.

Sean: So why don't we get to the overall model, then. We're going to show something today... So we went through this a little while ago, maybe last month or the month before we did this. So in our model of employee experience, it's based on a hierarchy of needs, and it's like Maslow's hierarchy, where fundamental needs need to be fulfilled before the next level of need is relevant. So again, Maslow's hierarchy - things like breathing and safety are fundamental needs before you're worried about other things like your purpose in life, right? So that's the idea. So for our model, the number one fundamental need is people need to feel valued, and one key way they feel valued is the resources you give them, which are things like fair pay and tools and equipment to do their job. Sot hat's how the model works. So those are the actual questions that we have there: EX1 and EX2, and there's 14 questions in our core model, and what we're saying is these questions apply to every generation, it doesn't matter which one it is. Every generation cares about getting a fair return for what they provide. Every generation needs good tools and cutting edge tools to do their jobs, right? And then we would move up a level in terms of culture. After you feel valued, you have to feel, "hey, I fit in here," and here are some questions you can see that really tie to that around diversity, being heard, being a fun place to work, and personally aligning with the company values. So that's kind of where it is around "I fit in here." After "I fit in here," there's the next level, and that's "I'm growing at the company." These are personal development and growth goals, so "My manager provides opportunities for me to learn and grow," as well as "There's some sort of feedback process in place that helps me improve." So that's some sort of performance management talent evaluation approach to help grow folks at an organization. And then the next level is "Purpose" and "My work matters." Purpose has always been a really important question. We've been doing this 20 years -- "I get a sense of purpose from my work" has been a key driver of employee experience and engagement forever, and it probably will continue to be as well, as well as "I have some sort of autonomy to get some things done" Those are really important "my work matters" factors. And the final top part is some sort of emotional connection with the organization around pride of working there. This is around trusting senior management, which has always been important. You know, this reputation question is an important one that keeps popping up more and more. And then there's two at the end around delivering a great customer experience, which we know has a great impact on revenue, bottom line. But a great employee experience links to that, so questions are around high quality products and services, and being known for being excellent to customers and treating customers well. Those round out the 14 questions that you know, no matter what generation you're part of, we're finding these are all super important in driving the experience and employee engagement. Anything you want to add there, Kirk? I kind of took that one, but wanted to get through it.

Kirk: Yeah, the only thing I'd add is this is a perfect baseline for any company. It's a concise tool, which is important for you to act on, and it covers that full range. We'll get into why there are differences across generations, and there's more you can and want to learn here... But this is the baseline where, if you're starting a new program, or even if you're looking to improve your existing program, this is a great direction to move.

Sean: Right. And this can be used as a full company survey that goes to everybody, you could use all of them or a subset of them for your pulse that you might be doing more often -- up to once a month or once a quarter. But this isn't taking long, right Kirk? Like what do we think this would take with one open end? Maybe five minutes, if that, for someone to fill out?

Kirk: Yes, exactly. It wouldn't take any longer than that. You should be able to quickly get through this. And that's a core thing -- the longer a survey takes, you're going to get survey fatigue, people aren't going to be taking the questions seriously, taking them in as purposely as they should... So five minutes is a great amount of time to collect all the information you need and get valid feedback from those respondents.

Sean: So what's really interesting about what we're going to show next is all these additional questions that matter to each one of these generations, they still fall into these basic needs. It's still the "Resource" need of "I feel valued." There's always going to be "I fit in here" and "I'm growing" and "My work matters" and "I'm proud" -- it's just there's different ways to achieve that need, right? So for one generation fitting in, there's maybe a different factor that helps them feel like they fit in versus another. And we're going to go through them in a second. So just to give people context around what we're about to show and what we did -- not to geek out here at all, but I will for a second maybe -- just one second. So what we were doing is we were grouping these questions through a factor analysis and that's how we got these needs. And then we were able to understand how these questions were grouping together, and then we did that for each generational piece of feedback in and of itself. So we started to look at just the feedback from Generation Z, which we're going to start with first. And for some of these additional questions, they didn't have an individual question in each of these five -- a couple of them kind of get lumped into different areas. So why don't we get to Generation Z so we can see what I'm talking about. So again, it's still the five needs, but there's a couple additional questions -- 5 additional questions in fact -- that we recommend asking, especially if you have a strong bent towards a Generation Z workforce. So for example, in the "I am valued," there's a question about "People who perform well at my company are financially rewarded," and this is a meritocracy and equity question, right? This is very important to this generation. They feel like it shouldn't just be based on years of experience, it should be based on merit, output and productivity. The "I fit in here" -- strong social relationships are extremely important to Generation Z, and being at a company that fosters those will help them fit in at your company. And especially this other one, "The manager being very open to their input." Generation Z wants to be heard, they're used to being heard, and having a manager who recognizes that input, right Kirk, is really important. And this is kind of the examples that we're going through that hit at this Generation Z piece. And I think it fits in, Kirk, right, with a lot of what you hear about this generation...

Kirk: Yeah, absolutely, and it reminds me of when I work with people of different generations, and I think we'll see this as we go through the rest of them as well, how this would align with what you would expect someone is coming in at this age. Of course you want to make sure you're getting appropriate financial reward -- that's very important at this stage in your life. It's fostering social relationships -- you have this job, you want to build those relationships. And we see a lot around, you're probably new in this space or in this job. Mentorship and manager relationships -- these are key. And so we are seeing for this generation, for this age cohort, these are things that if you have more of these employees in your organization, you really need to make sure you're delivering on these items.

Sean: Absolutely. Everybody can see the themes here. This is like a social support network both within the organization and at the manager level that these folks are looking for, and it makes total sense. I mean they're just coming into the workforce, a lot of them, and they want to know that they have people that they can learn from and provide input to. So my recommendation is if you have lots of Generation Z in your workplace, make sure you're adding these questions to your employee feedback initiative. Let's go to Millennials. I've managed lots of Millennials. Kirk is a Millennial, aren't you? Madeline, aren't you both Millennials?

Kirk: Yes

Madeline: Yes, Millennial reporting.

Sean: I'll let you take that then, Kirk, since it's your generation. How do these questions resonate with you? And Madeline, you can chime in here as well.

Madeline: Yeah, definitely.

Kirk: Alright, so let's go through it. Starting at the bottom, we have "Having the tools and technology that you need to be productive." Moving on, we've got "Having a manager who gives you candid and timely feedback," "Getting clear communication on expectations from your manager." Moving up there, you have...

Sean: You know what, Kirk, just stop on that one. As someone who's managed lots and lots of Millennials, that GM3 is so important: "Being clear on what you expect at work." That's important to this generation. It's important to every generation, but even more important to Millennials because they'll take you at your word and they want to know what you expect of them. And then the feedback piece, that does have a hint of Generation Z too, but it's important for this group as well.

Kirk: Yeah, and I think both of those do really tie to the next one there of, "There are excellent opportunities available for me at the organization," because you're getting a sense both from that GM2, GM3, GM4 of "I want to know what's expected of me and I want to know that if I meet these criteria, I understand how I can grow and how I can build at this organization." And the from there, you've got the last one there of truly enjoying your day-to-day work.

Sean: That's so important. I mean look, every company is not for every person, right? And you know, at a company like PeopleMetrics, we combine lots of math and software development and a lot of creativity and client obsession and customer success, all of those things. And we've had a couple of people who just didn't love it and who were Millennials and it wasn't a great fit, and that's fine. But they really do need to enjoy their day-to-day work, and that would be the hallmark, if I had to choose any of these for Millennials, it would be that one.

Madeline: Yeah, I'll chime in as a Millennial myself. I know a lot of these things resonate with me in terms of things that are important to me in my career. I know at least on the GM1 about having the tools and technology that I need to be productive, we are a generation that is kind of straddling the tech world, where we grew up without it, or with a more analog world of tech, and now obviously we are living in a very technology-centered world. So I'm sure many of us, and I know I've worked in workplaces where the technology isn't there, and that's a big frustration for us because we've straddled that. And then in terms of all the feedback and manager questions that are here, you know, we're at a point in our careers where we are looking to grow and looking for opportunities to do that. So yeah, having those communications with our managers about A) what's expected of us so we can do a great job, but then B) what we can do to grow is really important too.

Kirk: Yeah, I like how you put that, Madeline of... you're comparing it to the slide that we just saw previously. We're still seeing, of course, the manager relationship is important really for any generation, but here, that relationship has sort of changed. It's not just teaching and learning in this new position or in this new field, it's "I want to know what's expected of me, I want to learn how I can continue my personal growth here." And then you're kind of moving to these higher order things, of course, enjoying day-to-day work and of course, these daily frustrations of having the tools and technology you need. You are a bit more mindful of that as you're going through.

Madeline: Yeah, the growth element too, on #5, I think speaks to what you just said as well -- that truly enjoying your day-to-day work means you don't want to be doing monotonous, repetitive stuff all day and becoming stagnant in your career, so having those opportunities to grow makes it so that many Millennials have that enjoyable experience at work.

Sean: Let's get to my generation: Generation X. Yes. Okay. So Generation X is an interesting one, and I'm in this. So the value part becomes around infrastructure to collaborate with other employees. Generation X tends to be one that wants to communicate well. They want to be able to have fair competition in terms of being able to fit in in order to grow and increase their level at the company. And Generation X likes to have a voice with senior leadership, and we see that with "Senior leadership is accessible to anyone in my organization." And then practical professional concerns are what Generation X is interested in, so "Opportunity to grow professionally on a clearly defined career path" -- that's even more important in many ways for Generation X because of the stage of their career, right? I think that's kind of... these questions are always all very "stage of their career" type questions, and they all make complete sense to me. and my friends who I work with and talk to in the corporate world, I think, would agree that these are spot on for Generation X.

Kirk: Yeah, what I'd add to that, as you mentioned earlier, Sean, is when we get into these booster questions, it's not necessarily that it's one at every part of the pyramid. The whole point is that each of these different generations have their own priorities that may fall in different parts of this hierarchy.

Sean: And we're not saying that purpose or pride does not matter in this case -- it does. It's just the questions that we've had in our core model, that they take care of it. They still want to have purpose in their work and they still want to know that the company is delivering a great experience and want it to have a great reputation and all those things, and they can trust senior leadership. We just didn't see any additional questions that were really meaningful beyond those and that needed to boost that need.

Kirk: That, I think, is a great point as well. That these are booster questions. It's not to say that this is going to be comprehensive of, "you only need to ask your Generation X employees these 5 questions and that's it." You need to understand it is the hierarchy of needs and that EX14 base is important, but this provides additional guidance to really hone in on this group as well.

Sean: Alright, let's get to the Boomers. Alright, so Boomers, in terms of value, feeling valued, this is a really interesting on that came up. It was around, "The physical workspace is engaging and allowed me to do my very best work." So this is something that may or may not be relevant now with some people working from home, but maybe it is. Because no matter where the Boomers are working, I think they want to be able to feel like it's an engaging place for them to produce well, and when they were in an office, that was obviously a concern. And when people are going back to the office, that will be a concern. So it's something I think important to keep in mind. Around fitting in, a lot of it is around communication. So the Boomer segment really wants to be able to communicate with other people. That's extremely important to them. And they want to be treated with respect. You know, it's tough sometimes with very young workforces, and they may not feel like they're fitting in if there's not a lot of people like them, so treating them with respect and their knowledge of being around a lot longer than most in the workforce is extremely important in terms of making their experience as good as it can be. And it was interesting, this one, right, Madeline? This was the flip of Generation Z is... they want to mentor. Generation Z wanted mentoring, which I thought was awesome.

Madeline: Yeah, I had the same exact thought when I saw that question in the Boomer category, like of course, that's so great.

Sean: Exactly, so they want to be the mentor. And then "My work matters," it's challenging work. You know, these folks are towards the end of the career and you get to a point where you realize that easy work is not what really makes people satisfied. It's work that's challenging that works your brain, and it allows you to contribute, and that becomes I think more and more important as you're in the workforce, right? I think it's almost like education, right? So when you start out in school, everybody roots for an easy teacher, right? Even in college, people root for easy teachers. By the time you get to graduate school, you're thinking, "Give me a hard teacher because I want to really learn." It's the same here. I don't want... yeah, give me the easy work maybe in the beginning, but by the end, give me work that I can have a legacy around and really challenges me. And I think you're seeing that pop out as wiser people are in the workplace. Wiser just meaning that they've seen a lot more things. And that rounds out the questions.

Madeline: Well thanks for taking us through that tour... just giving us a refresher on the pyramid, the basic framework of the EX14, and then going through these questions. Yeah, it naturally takes you through the evolution of a career, right? And it's paired with these different generations. I know we're just about at time, but we do have a couple of questions here about these questions. So the first one here is: "Do you recommend asking the EX14 main pyramid and the generational booster questions?"

Sean: Right. So that depends on your organization. So we always recommend asking the EX14, right? So that goes without saying that should be the first 14 that you ask. And then you should look at your workforce -- so you know, just based on HR files in terms of ages, what generations are most prevalent at your organization? so if you have most of your organization in a certain generation or two generations, I would certainly include them as well. I don't recommend asking just that generation those questions. I would still ask everybody those questions. But what you want to keep in mind when you're looking at the data is you want to start to weight those more -- those answers for those generations. And maybe even test out within your organization whether they're truly driving the experience. We do this all the time for our clients, but we would run a regression on, let's say E-Net Promoter Score: "Would you recommend the organization to a friend or family?" And take a look at what is the ranked order of all the items that people are answering to see what's driving that outcome question. And then we can see for each generation -- we could do that per generation, even -- and see which pops up to the top. So really... Let me just take a step back. It depends on your organization. If you have kind of skewed to one group, you can certainly just ask those questions and include it to everyone, or you could ask all of these questions -- all 20 additional questions to everyone, and that's not adding too much to the survey. That might go from like 3-4 minutes to maybe 7 or 8 minutes at the max. You're still not talking about a long period of time. And then do the same exercise. See how those different generations fare in those questions that relate to them. Kirk, what would you add there?

Kirk: Yeah, I think the only thing I'll add here is that of course, if you're doing smaller pulses throughout the year, then you can really hone in on just one or two or three of these with the idea being you found within your annual survey, "we're underperforming with one of these groups..." So you're underperforming on this idea of mentorship -- building that is going to take time, and so you want to really focus on that as an initiative. Then in a quarter, take a pulse maybe on just the mentorship question so you can hone in. But when you're doing your big end of year survey, make sure you're asking the full set.

Sean: And you know what else, Madeline, this is another thing to keep in mind when you're analyzing this data. I would definitely segment it by generation and just see how -- if there are a lot of differences within your organization, right? People segment this data usually by what department, work group, right, Kirk? All these different... maybe even gender, maybe a couple other demographics. But I don't see a lot of generational segmentation, which I think should really happen.

Madeline: Yeah, definitely. It seems to make sense that you want to be paying attention to folks that are in different stages of their career and how you can make sure that you're doing everything you can as a company to make that a great experience for them so that they stay with your company and continue recommending other great folks to work there as well. And that... actually you guys answered the other question that I had here, which was about how often to ask these questions. So it sounds like it's something where you might want to ask all those questions in an annual survey, but then not necessarily do it as often in your pulse.

Sean: So the other thing you can do in a pulse is if you do what I call that "driver analysis" -- maybe we should do a PeopleMetrics LIVE! on driver analysis, that would be a good one, Madeline -- 

Madeline: Okay.

Sean: Might be a little bit to it, but I think people would like it maybe. Yeah. If you don't like it, you don't have to watch it, I guess. But it is super valuable to do these regressions because what happens is you're able to show for your organization what matters most to your people -- and if you do that on an annual study and you segment it by the generations, you might find one question per generation that really really matters to them in addition to the 14, and you might just include them as well, rather than all 20 of them, maybe it's just four additional questions. So those are things that you can do and I think... you know, you don't want to waste people's time, so you want to ask as few questions as you possibly can to get the answers you need to improve their experience.

Madeline: Awesome, awesome. Yeah, I'm sure that certainly helps with your focus as well as you're working on these larger projects, like you said Kirk, you know, mentorship programs can take a long time, etc. Well it looks like we're at time, guys. Thank you both so much for sharing your expertise with us today and taking us through this pyramid. This was an awesome conversation about how to understand what matters most to different generations in the workplace.  I'm sure this one got some wheels turning out there about how you can use questions like this to deliver those positive experiences to your multi-generational workforces.

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Posted on 03-04-2021