What Each Generation Wants in a Workplace

When it comes to career development and job benefits, millennials, Generation Xers and baby boomers have different priorities.
by | October 28, 2016
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Like any employer, governments working to attract and retain top talent must accommodate the needs of their employees. But what employees want in the workplace often varies across generations.

To this end, the International Public Management Association for Human Resources (IPMA-HR) has published a report examining how public employees of different age groups view recruitment, benefits, career advancement and other aspects of the workplace.

The association surveyed just under 3,600 state and local public employees in June. In a lot of areas, responses weren't that different. But around some aspects of career development and job benefits, the findings depict noticeable differences among millennials, Generation Xers and baby boomers. 

The following summarizes a few key findings of the IPMA-HR report.

Hiring

A lengthy hiring process is often cited as a barrier to public-sector employment, particularly when governments are competing with private companies and their speedier application process.

Employees surveyed were about evenly split when asked about the length of the hiring process for their jobs. Approximately 55 percent of millennials and 47 percent of Generation Xers reported that their hiring process was too long. For baby boomers, a somewhat lower share -- 42 percent -- said the process took too long. The slight disparity could be because most baby boomers were hired years ago, making the issue less relevant to them.

Respondents were also asked how employers could best attract prospective employees of their generation. Millennials suggested emphasizing opportunities for advancement and leadership programs. Baby boomers and Generation Xers, by comparison, were more likely to include health benefits or pensions as one of their top three selling points.

Benefits

The IPMA-HR survey asked employees to rate the importance of several workplace benefits.

Not surprisingly, retirement plans, health care, compensation and job security topped all other benefits in their importance, with all generations rating the three roughly equally.

Benefits related to work-life balance received higher ratings of importance from millennials and Generation Xers compared to their baby boomer peers. These younger employees similarly view training opportunities, tuition reimbursement and professional membership dues as more important. "Office perks" also registered more strongly with younger workers.

Career Advancement

Members of each generation exhibit slightly different approaches when it comes to growing their careers.

Millennials, many of whom likely hold entry-level positions, tend to want to advance more quickly. When asked how long an employee at their organization should work before advancing, 46 percent of millennials said within one to two years. That’s a bit higher than about a third of older workers who felt the same way.

The IPMA-HR survey also asked employees what career paths most interested them. Millennials (44 percent) were more likely to prefer career laddering than baby boomers (25 percent). Overall, government employees surveyed expressed the greatest interest in career ladders and job redesign.

When asked if they had sought employment in the private sector for a “relatively comparable type of job” in the past two to three years, about a fifth of all respondents answered that they had done so. Differences across generations were significant:  About 34 percent of millennials had sought private-sector jobs, compared to 19 percent for Generation X and 11 percent for baby boomers.

Working Environment

Factors related to the workplace environment further shape how employees perceive their jobs.

To gauge generational preferences, the survey asked about the importance of having effective communication, a safe work environment and a boss the worker respected, among other related questions. Responses yielded very similar results across generations:

Organizational Philosophy

Government workers also expressed views on their organization’s philosophy. Those surveyed most valued systems that encourage ideas, recognize employee contributions and provide skill development.

Public employees of all age groups reported similar preferences across the board. Younger workers placed only slightly greater importance on training opportunities and merit-based promotions than their peers.