I realize many articles have been written about generational differences in the workforce, but I'd like to know specific things you've done to help motivate younger team members.

I belong to "Generation X" where it's just natural to work as hard as you can, all the time, until you keel over and die.

The next generation, born approximately 1980 or later (Generation Y, Millennial, etc.) is much more focused on "work-life balance" -- sometimes to the detriment of a project.

So what have you found that helps keep Generation Y members engaged and motivated?

(Members of Generation Y are free to respond as well :)

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    Why do you think that having a work-life balance is detrimental to the project? I would argue just the opposite - by seeking an appropriate balance between work and home, I will be less likely to experience burnout and will, by the end, contribute more work of a higher quality. That said, I do have some citable references that might be of interest to you at home, so I'll be back in a couple of hours.
    – Thomas Owens
    Dec 14, 2011 at 19:46
  • What industry are you in? Or was this intended to be more generic?
    – SBWorks
    Dec 14, 2011 at 22:54
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    @ThomasOwens - There's nothing wrong with true work-life balance, but I think sometimes this is taken a bit too far spending a lot of work time playing games and doing social networking. There's more what I was referring to without really saying it :) Dec 15, 2011 at 19:50
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    @ThomasOwens - having a work-life balance can be detrimental to the project. Because instead of "must do" "I don't want to..." appear very often. Reduced to zero level of self-responsibility for the work/task/project. And yes, it's a label of "Lost Generation" (local term for Russia) Dec 17, 2011 at 23:15
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    I don't think that work life balance has anything to do with your topic regarding "working hard." I believe that these are two separate topics to discuss. Dec 19, 2011 at 4:07

3 Answers 3


To answer the question in a different way, I find that employee motivation varies dramatically from person to person and generational tags have little value. When dealing with younger workers, there are a few common traits, however, and I have had some success with:

  • Explaining the big picture: A lot of younger workers want to be part of something that actually produces something useful. If they think that the assigned task has no real value, then you are wasting their time and energy. When you assign something with no immediate value, make sure to explain how that work will fit in the next level.
  • Ensuring a career path exists: Unfortunately, a lot of companies no longer promote from within. If you were hired as Generic Front Desk Clerk, you will remain as a clerk. If they need a new manager, they go hire a new manager. Younger workers have either experienced this directly or seen a friend work hard and get passed over so there is lower tolerance for "make work" or "scut work" tasks. If you see a future for this employee, make sure that you tell them or they will assume that you are just as bad as the rest.
  • Get HR to lighten up: Flexible work schedules, telecommuting, working from a coffee shop, and a relaxed working environment are considered normal in many locations - especially the west coast of the US. Now that I've been working in a more traditional environment (Japan) for four years, I realize how soul crushing and creativity killing rigid environments can be.

Also, younger workers have no built-in loyalty to their current company. They won't "take a bullet" or give it their all just because you pay them. They can see that most companies don't actually care about them (no pension, no career path, benefit reductions, outsourcing, cost cutting, etc.) so they don't automatically care about the company. If you want them to work hard and pour their energy into the company, then you have to build trust and earn that loyalty.

I find the stereotypes of Gen X, Gen Y, and other generational tags to be inaccurate when dealing with employees. The main reason is that the majority of research easily available online (Bloomberg, CBS News, etc.) is based on interviews with students and not current workers. College campus life is quite different than the rest of the world so I rarely trust something based on student attitudes.

A study of current employees was conducted by JBA in the UK that was quoted in a couple of blogs and the results are quite a bit different. Unfortunately, the original is not readily available. There are no current articles available on PMI.org, either.

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    +1 for the "realize how soul crushing and creativity killing rigid environments can be.". Well, +1 anyway, but that line was good stuff.
    – Tevo D
    Dec 16, 2011 at 0:46
  • 1 and 2 work, but not as a common rule. Lost Generation just not interested in such "boring stuff" Dec 17, 2011 at 23:29
  • I've chosen this answer since it gives some good, actionable suggestions. Dec 19, 2011 at 1:07
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    Really agree with the point about companies not hiring within, this has been my observation too. I have mixed feeling about whether or not it’s a good practice (macro-level view). It would seem to me that; in today’s do-more-with-less scenario; you don't want to lose all that intellectual capital by making people leave in order to be promoted.
    – JoeGeeky
    Dec 19, 2011 at 12:15
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    @JoeGeeky - My Google-fu is slipping today so I can't find the link. But an author cracked a really good joke about how companies are moving from a Judeo-Christian model (work hard - get rewarded) to a Hindu model (you must die and get reborn as a higher rank person).
    – SBWorks
    Dec 20, 2011 at 0:46

If you interview every generation for the last one hundred years, they will say the exact same thing about the generation following them, and then worse things about the generation following that one.

Any discussion about difference is pop psychology at best, substantiated with nothing but anecdotal, weak evidence designed more to sell books. Ignore that, and research what real I/O social scientists are currently thinking about human motivation. And most importantly, challenge your belief that generation x has some intrinsic work ethic above and beyond other generations before and after.

PS What do you fly?

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    Perhaps a better way of phrasing is "different generations value different things" -- Gen Xers often value career advancement and obtaining stuff higher where Gen Yers value having more freedom and flexibility. I wouldn't call this "pop psych" unless you want to dismiss the entire field of organizational behaviour. (a separate debate) Oh, and I fly Cessnas :) Dec 15, 2011 at 19:43
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    What you have are very soft surveys typically conducted at a rather limited sample population, and the findings are written with such generalized language. Ten years from now, we will see very different results on similar surveys done on the same population. These are not controlled studies. I am not dismissing I/O psychology at all. I am saying these surveys are not I/O psych. Dec 15, 2011 at 20:00
  • I fly Cessnas, too, currently a C177B. ;) Dec 15, 2011 at 20:01
  • "If you interview every generation for the last one hundred years, they will say the exact same thing about the generation following them" - maybe, but even (our) school teachers say about the fundamental difference between "You" and "Now". I see this difference (I remember my young years) in uneven teams, my wife see the same, my sister... And there are only rare exceptions, that we speak the same language Dec 17, 2011 at 23:23
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    You are commenting on generations trying to understand each other now. And you are using your own observations as well as your families'. Generations mature as they grow. Answers to a survey that my generation would have had when we were in our twenties are not likely the same answers we'd provide now in our forties, or what we will provide when we are in our seventies. If you were able to conduct a multi-generational study across time, say each decade, and compare the results, I'd bet there would be no significant difference in the answers. Dec 18, 2011 at 1:33

I'm thinking I might be the generation you speak of, born 1989 so my take on things might be a little different to that of the above.

If you're finding your workforce aren't motivated enough I have no idea why you are still employing them.

Of the twenty close friends that graduated last year with degrees across a range of subjects and all in the age range 23 - 25 only one has found a job they wanted and has worked exceptionally hard to get it, the others are working exceptionally hard in jobs they don't even like so they can pay the rent and bills, they're pulling unpaid overtime, working 6 days out of 7, they have all been expected to work for free to gain experience and are still getting in early and going home late every day. Right now is a great time to be employing as lots of people are looking for work, and even better people are reluctant to leave jobs they don't like for fear of not finding another.

Heres some interesting statistics based on the generation of which you speak infographic

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