different generations

Different Generations, Different Values: What Matters Most Depends On How Old We Are

Written by on November 17, 2015

We tend to believe that values are lasting, but the truth is, values change over the course of life. Baby Boomers and Millennials may seem like they’re from different planets, but when you consider the two generations in terms of their values, the differences become easier to understand. As employers, it’s our job to understand what motivates our staff, in order to engage, inspire, and retain the best and brightest.

Baby Boomers: Financial Concerns For A Variety Of Reasons

Let’s start with the Boomers. It seems like they have always valued hard work and a big paycheque. First it was because they were itching to get out on their own. Later they developed a taste for accumulation and consumption. Today, though, their desire to make money has a less glamourous origin. One of the realities Boomers face today is that they’re expected to live longer than previous generations lived. Not long ago, our average life expectancy was 61 years old. Today it’s 83.

Not only do the Boomers need to support themselves, many also have more people than ever depending on them. With kids staying at home longer and many parents in costly long-term care, some Boomers are feeling extra pressure to support three generations or more.

Other Boomers, who don’t feel those pressures, are less worried about making money and are now feeling able – for the first time in their lives – to make decisions without having to consider finances first. Some of these Boomers are stepping back from their high-paying jobs to start businesses or take on projects that are less lucrative, but more meaningful. It’s a mindset many of them are learning from their kids.

Millennials: The “Money Isn’t Everything” Generation

Millennials differ from their Boomer parents in that they tend to be more values-driven and less interested in making money for its own sake. They’re not averse to making money, but they tend to believe that other factors are more important. They often have an entrepreneurial mindset and aren’t afraid to create their own opportunities. And they have strong senses of self, which can make them uncomfortable with the idea of allowing an organization to define who they are.

This “personal brand” motto influences many of the decisions Millennials make about what kinds of opportunities to pursue, which jobs to accept, and when to move on to other projects. But just as many Boomers face the added pressure of caring for others, Millennials face the added pressure of a highly competitive market and a scarcity of traditional, full-time, long-term engagements; it’s less a “lack of loyalty” when Millennial employees change jobs or organizations and more simple survival in today’s workforce.

Where Does Generation X Stand?

As for the folks in the middle, members of Generation X tend to share traits with both Boomers and Millennials. Like the Boomers, they have a sense of obligation and a need to provide for their families. But they also share the Millennials’ thirst for meaning and fulfillment. Generation X is a prime example that these generations have more in common than people may think.

Consider The Differences, Then Build On The Common Ground

So what does this all mean to employers and businesses? While all employees can and should be evaluated as individuals, looking at them through a generational lens can provide insight into what they value and what they need from their jobs and their organizations in order to succeed. Furthermore, this insight can help to build understanding among the generations in the workplace, for a more trusting, inclusive company culture. When leadership staff learns about generational traits, they can use that knowledge to strengthen their teams for more efficient, productive, and inspired workplaces.