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Motivating a multi-generational workforce

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Employers now have four generations of employees working at once, all with very different motivations and priorities. What does this mean for the way employers use benefits to attract and motivate their staff? By Barney Ely, Director, Hays Human Resources

This article was first published in Pay & Benefits magazine in July 2016.

The multi-generational workforce of the future

The average UK employer now has four generations of employees in their workforce. School leavers and septuagenarians are rarely treated as one group in any other aspect of life, yet in many organisations both groups, and everyone in between, are offered the same set of employee benefits and working conditions, regardless of their stage of life.

Most businesses spend a great deal of time and money investigating what different consumer demographics want from their products, but often too little time asking their employees what they want from their jobs. It stands to reason that a millennial will bring the expectations they have as a consumer to work with them, so a one-size-fits-all approach in the workplace will be as ineffective a strategy for employee engagement as it is for sales.

To find out more about what these different age groups are looking for we asked 20,000 employers and employees across the UK about the benefits they offer and look for in a new job. The findings published in the Hays UK Salary & Recruiting Trends 2016 report show similarities, differences, and an overwhelming need for employers to pay close attention to what these different groups of employees want and consider if they are meeting their needs equally.

Shifting priorities

In our research we analysed four workplace groups: Baby Boomers (born between 1940 and 1960), Gen X (born between 1961 and 1982), Gen Y (born between 1983 and 1995) and Gen Z (born after 1995).

One of the biggest changes seen when moving upwards through the generations is the shift from focusing on career progression to work-life balance. Gen Y and Gen Z prioritise career development when changing jobs, while Baby Boomers and Gen X prize work-life balance.

Broadly speaking Gen Y and Z are at the start of their careers, eagerly looking for the next opportunity to progress, and 42% of both age groups rate career development as the most important factor they look for in a new job. This is a significant jump from the 16% of Gen X who said this, and this factor did not rank in the top five for Baby Boomers.

Looking at the older generations, work-life balance is a priority for 26% of Gen X and 27% of Baby Boomers. Job security also ranks highly at 20% for Baby Boomers and 17% for Gen X.

This change is perhaps not surprising, given the different life stages of the groups, but many organisations struggle to appeal equally to all groups during the recruitment process and may miss out on attracting the best talent as a result.

Targeted employee benefits

Although career development ranks above work-life balance for the younger age groups when weighing up the merits of a new job, all four generations rank flexible working as the most important when asked to choose their most valued employee benefits. For all groups over 25 days annual leave was also a top priority, with Gen Y and Z ranking this as almost equal in importance to flexible working.

An above statutory pension ranked as the third most valued benefit in all groups. When it came to fourth place there is a clear divide between the older and younger groups. Baby Boomers and Gen X prioritise health insurance or private medical cover, while Gen Y and Z opt for financial support for professional studies.

This can affect how positively your employees perceive the employee benefits on offer. Younger employees may be uninterested in a generous health insurance package at this stage of their lives, and neglecting to showcase your generous funding for training could see you lose out on these ambitious newcomers.

workforce benefits

Gen Z were the most likely to look for benefits that supplement their incomes, ranking onsite subsidised facilities, share incentives, discounts on company products and services and a company car or car allowance more highly than any other the other groups.

When appealing to new entrants to your workforce, particularly those on entry-level salaries, emphasising the benefits that can help manage the cost of living can be appealing.

When it comes to family-friendly benefits, the twenty and early thirty year olds in Gen Y are the most likely to look for an above statutory maternity or paternity leave allowance with 22% ranking it as their top priority. However, it is those in Gen X who are most likely to prioritise childcare vouchers.

Flexibility is key

Flexible working is clearly a priority across the generations, but while 62% of employees across the UK rate this as their most important benefit, only 53% of employers offer this.

The term flexible working covers a multitude of options and for the majority of employees flexi-time is the one they rate most highly when looking for a new role. The exception to the rule is again Gen Z, who favour the option of home and remote working. This expectation could prove challenging to employers in future if they do not have the culture or technology to allow the working patterns that this age group may see as the norm.

Compressed hours and part-time working were popular options across all groups, with Baby Boomers the most likely to look for part-time working options. This was also the group most likely to be currently using part-time working options, while Gen X were the most likely to already be working from home or working flexible hours.

Flexible working opportunities contribute to an employee’s perception of their work-life balance, and with this ranking so highly as a reason to move jobs for all age groups it should not be overlooked. Both Baby Boomers and Gen X are less likely to rate their work life balance as good or very good than the general population, while Gen Z are the most satisfied with their work-life balance.

Looking beyond the generations

There is, of course, more to an individual than their age group, and our research also shows that these preferences change depending on gender, location and profession, not to mention the myriad of personal circumstances that would affect the benefits seen as most valuable to an individual.

As employers strive to improve the diversity and accessibility of their organisations they will need to adapt to even more groups and circumstances. For example, the large number of employees taking on caring responsibilities means that flexible working is not just a priority for new parents.


Every workforce will be different, so understanding your own employees is essential to getting this mix right for your organisation.


Within these age groups are a wide range of individuals facing different challenges, and Gen Y employees in their early 30s will face a different set of challenges than those just starting their careers after university.

Every workforce will be different, so understanding your own employees is essential to getting this mix right for your organisation. Employee surveys and focus groups can be used to find out what benefits are really valuable to your staff and work out which benefits that you offer are appreciated by your staff, and which they are not making use of.

Listening and adapting

While most candidates will ask about and negotiate over benefits during the interview process, and consider all the options available to them during the onboarding process, how many regularly review the benefits available as their lifestyle changes?

Flexible benefits packages and the opportunity to purchase additional benefits are fairly commonplace, but staff may not always be aware of the options available to them. Effective communication around employee benefits can be as important as the benefits offered, and HR and benefits teams should be receptive to feedback from employees and use this to tailor their benefits package.

With longer working lifetimes meaning employees may change not just their jobs but their careers several times, the future workforce will look very different to today’s. This multi-generational workforce requires a different approach to benefits, but the rewards will be significant for employers who can engage and motivate the talent of these four generations simultaneously. 

Speak to your local recruiting consultant for Hays Human Resources.


About this author

Barney Ely HR director

Barney Ely, Director at Hays Human Resources, Hays UK & Ireland

Barney is responsible for the human resources recruitment business at Hays, leading a team of 80 recruiters in 40 locations across the UK.

Barney joined Hays in 1993 as a business graduate and has spent much of his career recruiting for blue-chip organisations and SMEs. In addition to now leading the HR recruiting business, Barney also has operational responsibility for offices across the South of England. He has responsibility for teams placing professionals in over 20 industry sectors, from accountancy and finance to construction, IT, marketing and education.

Barney is an active partner to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), sitting on the panel for the CIPD People Management Awards.

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