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We frequently read about, hear about, and otherwise experience how each generation approaches the concept of work with unique characteristics that set it apart from other generations. Baby boomers, for example, are often labeled as wanting to create and leave a legacy. Generation X is described as wanting stability, autonomy, and respect for their individuality. Millennials are frequently described as being on a quest for social impact and are known for embracing technology. The most recent group to enter the workforce, Generation Z, is seen as hungry for authenticity, digital fluency, and constant connectivity. 

Despite these differences, there are unique characteristics and priorities shared by generations that are typically formed by life experiences and resulting expectations. Such generalities can be useful as we engage and work with members of other generations, but we need to remind ourselves that individuals may not fully fit the descriptors assigned to their generations.  

We also need to be careful not to ignore an overriding truth about work values and priorities across generations. The truth is that there is much that all people have in common and important priorities that they share regardless of the cohort into which they were born. In fact, researchers and experts point to at least eight work values held in common across generations. Failure to pay attention to these values and priorities can overshadow and even negate actions and initiatives designed to appeal to generational workers. Let’s explore these eight shared motivational and satisfaction drivers—and why they matter:  

  • Purpose. Regardless of our associated generation, we want to feel that what we do matters. We want to make a difference, and meaningful contributions matter. This driver includes sharing the values and priorities of the organization for which we work. It is also associated with the importance of being able to take pride in our work and enjoying what we do.  
  • Respect. We want to be consulted and listened to. Respect is knowing that our experience and expertise are noticed and valued. Some people feel respect when they can share their expertise, while for others, respect is reflected in opportunities to innovate and in the empowerment to make meaningful decisions.  
  • Belonging. We need to feel connected and included. We also want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. Naturally, too, we want to enjoy the people with whom we work. The opportunity to practice with competent, caring, and collaborative colleagues can be exceptionally motivating.  
  • Trust. We like to feel that our team has confidence in us and supports our efforts to be successful in our work. Trust can take the form of flexibility in our approach, organization, and practice, and it can be communicated in the form of being given the autonomy to create, innovate, and modify practices and approaches. Feeling trusted can be a powerful motivator regardless of our generation.  
  • Appreciation. We want to know that our efforts and contributions are recognized and appreciated. Of course, there are variations in how people may want to be recognized. Some people prefer a private conversation, some respond to public recognition, and still others might prefer something tangible such as a letter, certificate, or award. Regardless, appreciation and recognition need to be timely, specific, and authentic. Additionally, expressions of appreciation and recognition are most impactful when they highlight contributions that are connected to organizational goals or respond to significant organizational challenges.  
  • Challenge. We want to develop new skills that help us to be increasingly effective in our roles. We want opportunities to take on new challenges and advance in our careers. Of course, the specific nature and level of the challenges and opportunities we seek to advance may vary, but we want to stay fresh, grow, and succeed.  
  • Balance. We desire a healthy balance between our personal and professional lives. We want to be able to establish boundaries between our time at and away from work—and have them respected. Being given flexibility and the understanding to manage emergencies and unexpected circumstances can also be significant motivators and satisfiers.  
  • Compensation. We want to feel as though our contributions are compensated fairly. Admittedly, the subject of compensation is a longstanding and significant challenge in education. Pay for educators is not always competitive with other professions requiring comparable education and skills, and state budgets and policies often create limits in the amount of funding available. However, providing flexibility and customizing compensation in response to individual needs and interests can make a difference.  

Without question, we need to respect the uniqueness of each generation. However, we also must remember and give attention to what motivates all of us, regardless of when we were born and which generation we represent. The fact is that we have much more in common than we have that separates us.  

Thought for the Week

In response to the uncertainty and disruption in which we find ourselves, researchers and experts say that the number one skill for survival and success in today’s environment is adaptability.

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