Measuring Success

By Virginia Galt May 31st 2004 Globe and Mail
Workplace Reporter

What's a successful career? The answer, it turns out, depends to a large degree on when you were born.

Canada's oldest employees want to leave a legacy. The youngest want to have fun, make money. Boomers seek work that fits their lifestyles after much climbing and hard work. Generation-Xers crave intellectual stimulation; they get bored quickly. Success, for most employees, doesn't mean climbing the corporate ladder. And, contrary to what employers might think, job security isn't a dead issue.

These research findings, to be presented in Ottawa today (05/31/2004) by Carleton University's Sprott School of Business, outline the shifting values employers face as they manage an increasingly diverse and well-educated work force. Employers must accommodate the different values of their employees because the nature of work has changed, business professor Sean Lyons said. "We're moving away from an industrial economy to a knowledge-based economy . . . we have to rely more on the minds of individual members of the work force," said Prof. Lyons, who is presenting a paper on generational differences. It is much more important, than in the past, to understand their motives and the way that people are thinking, the way they are perceiving and the way they are feeling."

When Prof. Lyons surveyed more than 1,000 employees, ranging in age from 17 to 69, about what they value in their working lives, he found "some decisive generational patterns."

Employees in the Silent Generation, born prior to 1945, place great emphasis on work that makes use of their experience and abilities -- and resent being written off as irrelevant. They want to "pass the torch and leave their mark," Prof. Lyons said. Employees born during the post-war baby boom, between 1945 and 1964, are most concerned with work-life balance, having spent the early part of their careers in a highly competitive environment. They are returning to their hippie roots, seeking positions that are more in line with their moral values and lifestyles, he said.

The independent-minded Generation-Xers, born between 1965 and 1979, place a premium on intellectually stimulating work, learning opportunities and advancement. If they don't get it, they'll move on. The Millennials, born in 1980 and later, report that money is their top priority --understandably, because they are just starting out, Prof Lyons said. But they also want to have fun.

Understanding these patterns is a key to "making the best use of everybody," he said. "There can't be bias based on age. Managers can't say, 'these people are too old to contribute, these people are too young to contribute.' As people head to retirement, everyone who is left in the work force has to play a role," Prof. Lyons said.

But how to motivate them? "Employers have traditionally assumed that success meant the same thing to everyone, and that all employees aspired to increased responsibility. The research shows this is simply not true," said business professor Lorraine Dyke, director of Carleton's Centre for Research and Education on Women and Work. While there are gender differences -- women are more likely to define success in terms of personal fulfilment, while men are more focused on gaining technical and managerial expertise -- not everyone wants to be boss, and challenging work is often more important than money, said Prof. Dyke, who will speak on the meaning of success. "Up is not the only way to go," she said. In interviews with 200 managers and professionals, Prof. Dyke asked people what kept them in their jobs. "The No. 1 thing is that they enjoy their work. Compensation and benefits were way down on the list," she said. "Yet, often when an employee is contemplating leaving or there is another job offer, the organization will come back with more money," she noted. Autonomy is important, especially to women, she said, but security matters as well. "Some employers, I think, like to assume that security is a dead issue. It is not."

Employees also want to be "proud of what they do, be proud of who they work for and be proud of how it's done," business professor Stephen Maguire said. "There is increasing pressure from many different stakeholders to ensure that public and private organizations are run with a culture of integrity." But ethical values "will not be infused into organizations unless someone is put in charge," Prof. Maguire said. Some organizations now conduct "social audits" to track how well they are doing on human rights, environmental and corporate responsibility issues, but most do not, he said. "If senior managers are autocrats or ethically neutral -- and most leaders are perceived as being ethically neutral -- the message to the troops is to worry about the results, not how we get them."

However, organizations will have to change in response to tougher scrutiny from their own employees, the media and the community at large, he said. Prof. Maguire warned that, "If organizations are not going to do the audits themselves, they are going to be embarrassed by others doing those audits."


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