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What Different Generations Want From Work
by Rieva Lesonsky
April 29, 2022
Multiracial happy work team eating pizza, drinking coffee together on break at shared workspace

As Generation Z begins to enter the workforce and Americans continue to work until age 70 and beyond, it's entirely possible that your small business may be contending with employers from three, four, or even five different generations at the same time. 

How can you motivate, retain and manage employees from different generations with different attitudes and needs?

A recent study by Staples takes a closer look at what generations care about when it comes to their workplace. The Staples Advantage 2016 Workplace Index examined Generation Z (under 18 years old), Generation Y/Millennials (18-33 years old), Generation X (34-50 years old), Baby Boomers (51-70 years old), and the Greatest Generation (over 70 years old). Here's what they found.

Battered by Burnout

Millennials, Gen X and Baby Boomers are the three most prevalent generations in the workforce. The bad news: These demographics feel overwhelmed by their jobs, and many are burned out. In fact, burnout is so bad that fully half of Millennials, 47 percent of Gen X, and 35 percent of Boomers admit they’re looking for another job because of it.

How can you overcome these employees' feelings of burnout and recharge their enthusiasm for their work? Baby Boomers say the answer would be to lessen their workload and give them more time to complete tasks. Gen X and Millennial employees say a flexible schedule that makes it easier to create a work-life balance is the ideal solution.

Motivating Force

What motivates employees in different generations? Baby Boomers are most motivated by feeling a sense of purpose in their jobs; salary is their number-two motivator. Generation X and Millennial employees are a bit more money-oriented: Both groups rank salary as their number-one motivator. A sense of purpose is the second-biggest motivator for Generation X; for Millennials, feeling passionate about what they do is their number-two motivator.

Office Space

While Millennial employees are most inspired when they're working from home, other age groups don't share their feelings. Both Generation X and Baby Boomer employees are most inspired when at their desks in a traditional office workspace.

The design of the workspace is important to all three generations, and all of them say natural light is the design feature they want most. However, while Baby Boomer and Generation X employees prefer ergonomic furniture, enclosed offices, and private spaces in which to work, Millennial employees crave lounge areas, open-plan offices, and standing desks.

Take a Break

Wellness is important to all three generations: In fact, 70 percent of Millennials, 62 percent of Gen X, and 51 percent of Boomers say a wellness program would be a selling point when they’re considering a new employer. Of course, taking regular breaks is important for wellness, and almost 80 percent of employees overall say they feel more productive after taking a break. Unfortunately, employees in all three generations say they rarely have time to get up and take breaks because they have too much work.

Providing break rooms, refrigerators for employees to store lunches and snacks, and healthy refreshment options, such as tea or filtered water in addition to coffee, can help encourage employees to get up and take breaks, while also eating healthier meals.

Overall, the study concludes, flexibility is key to keeping all generations happy at work. Whether it's designing a flexible workspace that includes both private and open areas or offering the option to work at home or in the office, employees of all ages want to have choices in what they do at work.

Need help managing your workforce? The experts at SCORE are here to offer advice and guidance. Visit to get matched with a mentor today.

About the author
Rieva Lesonsky
Rieva Lesonsky is president and CEO of GrowBiz Media, a custom content and media company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship, and the blog
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