Many workplaces are becoming increasingly multi-generational as more and more young workers enter the workforce.  Employers now need to understand how to manage a new generation of workers, who are perceived to be very different from the incumbent generation of employees.  This issue becomes more urgent as the pioneer generation of workers prepare for well-deserved retirements.

Traditionally, workers have been classified into the following generations:

  • Boomers: born between 1946 and 1964 (aged 46 and above in 2011);
  • Generation X: born between 1965 to 1982 (aged between 30 and 46 years in 2011); and
  • Generation Y: born between 1982 to 2000 (aged between 11 and 29 years in 2011).


In Jun 2011, Solutionsatwork conducted a survey among 180 adults across all ages in Singapore.  The objective of the survey was to determine if there were any differences in expectations between Gen X and Gen Y employees with towards their job, benefits, and their employer.

Highlights of the finding are presented below.

  • When Deciding on a Job (Gen Y and Gen X)
    • 45% of respondents indicated that Career Progression was the most important factor
    • 36% of respondents indicated that Salary was the next most important factor
    • 1 out of every 2 respondents indicated that Job Variety was the least important factor

While the expectations are similar, more in-depth sessions with selected respondents suggest that the underlying reasons are quite different.

Gen Y respondents were generally looking for jobs that offered the most opportunity for career growth, as many were keen to establish themselves as quickly as possible.  Salaries were important as a means of satisfying a lifestyle, and as a measure of success.  Job variety, while important, was not a factor to be considered, since many felt that this could be managed by job switches if the employer couldn’t cater for it.

Gen X respondents however, viewed Career Progression as the avenue for larger salaries – which many viewed as being critical for security and as a means of improving the quality of life for their families.  Career progression and salaries are driven by a need to meet financial commitments and by a need for self-actualization.

  • When Selecting an Employer
    • Of the Gen Y respondents, 49% indicated that Work Culture was the most important factor and 45% indicated that Company Reputation was the second most important factor
    • Of the Gen X respondents, this was flipped – with more respondents feeling that Company Reputation was a more important factor than Work Culture
    • Gen Y employees felt that a Company’s Mission and Values were the least important factor when deciding on an employer, while Gen X employees felt that the company’s commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility was the least important

Gen Y respondents are attracted to work cultures where ideas can be shared freely and where decisions are made collaboratively rather than authoritatively.  They like that their opinions are sought and considered and have no inhibitions about questioning the status quo.  Gen Y respondents view Company Reputation as an important means of establishing themselves and facilitating career progression.

Many Gen X employees are mid-career and view employment at a company with a good reputation as a means to enhancing their professional value.  Gen X employees were generally keen to maintain the status quo, and appreciate cultures where change occur at a more controlled pace.

  • Most Valuable Benefits
    • Of the Gen Y respondents, 63% indicated that it was most important that they had a good Work-Life Balance.  Next most important was the opportunity for Training
    • Of the Gen X respondents, 57% indicated that the most important benefit was to have a good Work-Life Balance.  The next most important benefit was Flexi-Work Arrangements
    • Both Gen X and Gen Y rated Medical Benefits as the least important.

Work-Life Balance was indicated as the most important benefit.  Gen Y respondents explained that they needed time to be with friends, and to maintain their social life.  Many did not feel that there was a need to work long hours at the expense of their social lives.  Gen X respondents on the other hand, mostly have young families, and valued Work-Life Balance as a means of allowing them to spend more time with family or for personal pursuits.

Gen Y respondents ranked Training as the second most important benefit.  This is consistent with their desire to establish themselves quickly and rise to a management position as quickly as possible.  Gen X respondents however, selected Flexi-Work Arrangements as the second most important benefit, in keeping with the needs of working professionals with young families and ageing parents.

Interestingly, both Gen Y and Gen X respondents ranked medical benefits as being the least important.  Gen Y respondents felt that this benefit would probably be more important later in life.  Many Gen X respondents on the other hand, felt that they were already adequately covered by private medical insurance, making company-provided medical benefits less important.

In summary, HR practitioners need to understand the needs and expectations of different employees and tailor their offerings to suit each generation of employee.  Many employers have recently begun to review their policies, and have started opting for more diverse benefits and systems, targetted specifically at attracting and retaining talent.

HR Practitioners should also be aware of the dangers in generalizing the characteristics of employees.  Each individual is different and reacts differently to the environment, to colleagues, and to the culture.  It is best to have a deeper and more accurate understanding of their behavioural traits in order to fully leverage on their potential, and enhance job-fit and retention.

Please contact us if you require more information about this topic, or if you woudl like a discussion on how your multi-generational workforce can be more effectively managed.