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Generation Y expects a lot – but exactly the same as everyone does

Today's demands of employees on their employers are becoming more and more demanding. But it is not only the Generation Y who suddenly has completely different preferences and wishes. Visible changes are based on a change in attitudes that encompasses all generations.

We hear a lot about this new generation. A generation with excessive wishes – a sabbatical, even though the probationary period has just been completed, the freedom to decide when, where and how to work and while doing so mostly taking care of themselves.

This raises the question: Is it really like that? And even more important: What do the others, the Gen X, the Baby Boomers and the very young ones, who are only now entering the labour market, really want? What do employers have to be prepared for in order to attract the best talents on the market?

I took a look at science, read studies and talked to scientists. The result: many studies whether from Europe or the USA come to different or conflicting results, many studies are simply not scientifically and empirically reliable, meta-analysis and even long-term studies cannot find significant differences between the generations. Yes, I think I have to say that again out loud:

Meta-analysis and long-term studies cannot detect significant generational differences

So the Generation Y does not have completely different ideas about how to organise work than employees of other generations. At least science finds no or insufficient evidence for this. When looking at the long-term studies, however, it is striking that many things are changing. A change in attitudes can be observed that does not only affect the young, but on the contrary, encompasses all generations.



Why are many studies on Generation Y scientifically not reliable?

There are many reasons, but I would like to introduce one effect in particular which I consider to be decisive: the linear relationship between the period, age and cohort effect. Each generational effect results from a combination of period and age effects. Why? An example: A study asks a group of 25-year-olds in 2019 how important their self-fulfilment is to them, this study is usually done one time at a certain date.

The results of this group are then compared with those of other groups of other ages and generational differences are derived from this. However, the same group is not interviewed again at a different time, nor is there usually any comparison with the statements of another group of 25-year-olds at a different time.

In other words, what we do not know is whether the answer was given because it was given at a certain point in time (2019) (period effect), because the respondents were of a certain age at the time of the survey (25 years) (age effect) or because they were born in 1994 and therefore belonging to a certain cohort (cohort effect).


Changed demands on the employer are the result of a change in values that affects the entire workforce

It becomes apparent that previous demands on the employer are still valid. However, these are supplemented by other more intrinsically motivated variables.

Requirements that are linked to the "what" continue to be important - contrary to what some people might think, topics such as

  • success

  • career/ promotion

  • good salary

remain highly relevant. However, they are complemented by more intrinsically motivated variables that answer the questions of "why" such as

  • meaningfulness at work

  • personal development

  • increased desire for social commitment at work

In my view, it’s also a question of shaping the "how" - the way of working together. This is where topics such as

  • flexibility in space & time

  • increasing self-organisation

  • visibility, networking and feedback as well as

  • improved compatibility of professional and private life

are becoming increasingly important. Requirements to which employers must increasingly adapt in order to be successful on the market of talents.

But one thing is crystal clear:

Even if it is all of us who cherish these wishes, it is often the young who demand and live them.

They ask for leadership at eye level, the purpose of the company and self-organisation in the execution of their tasks. And not just in their mid-50s after having made their career, but right away from the start.

Summary & Conclusion

Today's demands of employees on their employers are becoming more and more demanding, the bouquet of needs more and more colourful. However, it is not only the Generation Y that suddenly has completely different preferences and wishes and make absurd demands. Changes that are visible are based on a change in attitudes that encompasses all generations. Contrary to what is often assumed, issues such as salary, success and promotion do not lose their importance - they retain their importance and are supplemented by needs such as meaningfulness of the job, personal development and increased self-organisation in the execution of tasks. Surface cosmetics, as some companies do with the installation of ball baths and delicious smoothies in the kitchen, are therefore no longer sufficient to meet these goals. Rather, it is a matter of developing a new attitude, new culture and new direction - for the development towards a VIBRANT ORGANISATION (More about the dynamic management perspective can be found here). The breeding ground and accelerator for demanding these wishes were - at least so far - the prevailing lack of skilled workers and the very good economic situation so far. We were not only happy to have a well-paid job, but due to the employee-friendly situation on the labour market we were also able to decide which employer fits best to us culturally and in terms of the lived form of cooperation and values. How will things continue now that we are in the middle of the Corona crisis and have lost our secure footing? Certainly there will be companies that rely on familiar structures and try to find stability in them. But for me it is clear:

Especially now, in times of crisis, we are more dependent than ever that all our employees are in their swing, full of energy, in order to use their full potential to find creative and innovative solutions for current challenges.

Let us therefore not dismiss these demands as impertinent, exaggerated wishes, but gratefully accept them as a necessary, driving force and impulse for changing our working world.

(This article was translated from German by AI)

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