3 Things to Know About the Workplace Generation Gap

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Traci Daberko

What is the purpose of business, and what is its role in society? As corporate leaders thread their way through divisive political and social issues and negotiate with fractious workforces, that’s an increasingly salient question. A survey of 5,458 Americans that Bentley University recently conducted with Gallup shows that your own employees’ answers — their attitudes and expectations — might vary widely depending on the generational cohort. With an unprecedented five generations in the workplace today, managers would be wise to understand these three key differences:

55%
of survey respondents said they would change jobs to take one that had a more positive impact on the world.

1. Most workers want to change the world — especially Gen Z. Overall, 55% of survey respondents said they would change jobs to take one that had a more positive impact on the world. Those mobile idealists are especially dominant in the rising generation of workers: A full 71% of workers under age 30 took that stance. And 40% of them said they would even accept a 10% pay cut to do this more meaningful work.

2. Younger people want business leaders to speak up. While a sizable minority (41%) of Americans believe businesses should take a public stance on current events, there is a growing divide between age groups. Fifty-three percent of Americans ages 18 to 29 are in favor of companies speaking out, but that support drops to 35% among those 45 and over. Within that younger cohort, respondents indicated the strongest support for business taking a stance on climate change (68%), mental health (64%), free speech (57%), and racial equality (56%).

3. Everyone wants a four-day workweek. The survey asked what actions employers could take to increase employees’ well-being. The No. 1 answer was to offer a four-day 40-hour workweek in place of a five-day 40-hour workweek. Overall, 77% of respondents said this would improve their well-being. But among younger workers age 18 to 29, a whopping 82% favored a shorter workweek.

That finding was presented to a group of 25 CEOs, none of whom saw a four-day workweek as viable. However, some companies that have participated in experiments with four-day, 32-hour workweeks have seen good results for well-being and productivity and have made the change permanent. Older executives might not see employee wellness quite the same way as younger employees — and leaders who figure out how to successfully manage in ways that better support well-being might have a recruitment edge.

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