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30.07.2012 in Current News Bookmark and Share

Study finds all generations want meaningful work

Workers of all ages see their jobs and employers in a similar light and want many of the same things, this according to a study of 1,000 people in 50 American states conducted by researchers in the School of Human Resource Management in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies at York University. The findings will be presented at the American Psychological Association’s annual convention on Aug. 5.

“Many books and articles claim that younger and older workers see their jobs differently and want different things,” said York faculty member Paul Fairlie, a behavioural scientist, consultant and the study’s researcher. “But some of that is based on opinion and hearsay. More rigorous research is needed.”

photo of Paul Fairlie Paul Fairlie 

The study found that age and generations had only a zero to three per cent effect how people see their work and what they desire from the workplace. Positive working conditions were far more responsible for people’s satisfaction, commitment, and retention.

Younger and older workers surveyed in the study reported similar working conditions, satisfaction, commitment, stay intentions, burnout, engagement and discretionary effort. All workers were motivated by similar work characteristics, with meaningful work topping the list.

“A 10 per cent increase in meaningful work was linked to seven per cent higher satisfaction, commitment, stay intentions and lower burnout,” said Fairlie. “It was almost eight per cent for higher engagement.”

Meaningful work was measured as self-actualizing work (work that enables an employee to realize their full potential, values and life goals), social impact (having a positive impact on people and things through work), feelings of personal accomplishment and believing that their highest career goals can be achieved within their current organization.

The study recommends that employers provide the same positive working conditions to all employees, regardless of age, especially meaningful work, which may have the most widespread, pervasive and positive impacts. The study also suggests that meaningful work can often be provided through communication strategies rather than re-tooling the organization.

The findings, which were statistically significant and replicated in two other studies, will be published later this year in an academic volume on aging, work and society.

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