Gen Y employees value work life balance over career progression

Misconceptions about Generation Y could see a critical shortage of managers in 10 years’ time as a survey shows they are more motivated by work life balance and a sense of fulfillment than career progression.

The study by global people management business Penna was conducted amongst 1,000 senior managers and 1,000 employees aged between 18-34 (frequently referred to as Gen Y) and shows a mismatch between what employers think their team members want from their careers in the long term and what is actually most important to them.

Nearly a quarter (24%) of employers believe that one of the most important ambitions for this generation is to have experienced lots of different jobs and sectors, and a fifth (20%) think they’re motivated by wanting to be a manager and lead their own team. The employee research, however, split into 18 – 24 year old and 25 – 34 year old categories, showed that in fact work life balance and a sense of fulfilment rank far higher on both groups’ surveyed long term priority lists.

However, the survey did show the two groups shared the same top three priorities when it comes to their long term ambitions – which are ‘earning a great salary’, ‘being totally fulfilled and happy in my work’ and ‘to have achieved a great work life balance’. However, employers believe that there is a significant difference in attitudes and priorities between those at the upper end of the group and those at the lower end.

Steven Ross, Head of Career Development at Penna said: “This research has revealed two really important things – one, that we cannot just assume that younger generations in the workplace are automatically going to want to fill the shoes of todays’ leaders and managers, and two – that perhaps Gen Y aren’t as distinctly different from older generations as we thought. Whilst organisations are doing pretty well at understanding some of the key motivators, there is work to be done in casting away stereotypes and making sure that managers invest time in regular career conversations with their teams to really understand what drives them. Simply guessing what will engage a Gen Y employee, or any employee for that matter, won’t work. Organisations that fail to do so could see a decline in engagement levels, and productivity, and increased attrition rates – not to mention a serious shortfall of managers and leaders in 10 years’ time.”

The research also showed a disparity around short-term ambitions and motivators. Some 36% of senior managers said they believe 18-24 year olds most want a pay rise and 32% said that 25-34 year olds most want a promotion – whereas in fact the employee results showed the opposite. Receiving a pay rise is most important to the higher age range of Gen Y (23% for 25-34 year olds compared to 17%  for 18-24 year olds) and the ambition to be promoted is in fact a bigger driver for the lower age range of Gen Y (21%  for 18-24 year olds compared to 13% for 25-34 year olds).

The research also revealed that managers are underestimating how important the values of an organisation are to employees; as 13% of 18-24 year olds said ‘values that reflect my own’ was an important consideration when choosing a company to work for, but just 7% of managers believed this to be the case. Loyalty ranked highly on the agenda of Gen Y too, with 64% of 18-24 year olds agreeing they believe ‘it is important to be loyal to your employer’ compared to 56% of 25-34 year olds. However, when asked what age group they’d most associate with loyalty to a company, only 3% of employers said 18-24 year olds compared to 26% for 25-34 year olds.

Steven Ross said: “It’s clear that 18-34 year olds have a very broad list of things they care about and believe in when it comes to choosing a job and developing their career within an organisation, which may not be fully recognised by management. Whilst things like salary and progression opportunities will never stop being important to them, what this research shows is that they need to be listened to, otherwise organisations could be investing time and energy on development initiatives that don’t connect or resonate with them, and that can have serious long term business consequences.”


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