Study: Recession affects workers of all generations

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Workers of all ages have a new appreciation for company stability when making career decisions, according to a study recently released by Robert Half International, a Menlo Park, CA-based specialized staffing company.

For many workers, however, getting to firmer ground may entail a career change, according to the study, Workplace Redefined: Shifting Generational Attitudes During Economic Change.

Four out of 10 professionals polled said they are more inclined to look for new opportunities outside their firms as a result of the recession. Other findings include:

  • Pay is not keeping up with performance. More than one-third (37 percent) of employees felt they are not being fairly compensated for assuming a greater workload during the recession.
  • Work is more engaging. Approximately one in four (28 percent) said they are more engaged in their work as a result of the recession.
  • Generational views on next career steps differ. For Gen Y, looking for a new job is the most common post-recession career plan, whereas Gen Xers polled said they are more inclined to update their skills. For baby boomers surveyed, staying put at their companies was the most commonly cited post-recession career plan.
  • Cross-generational teams bring challenges, rewards. Nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of hiring managers said managing multigenerational work teams poses a challenge. But more than one-third of workers polled felt having a group of employees at different experience levels increases productivity.
  • Retirement plans are being put on hold. Nearly half (46 percent) of workers believe they will work past the traditional retirement age, and more than one-third said the recent recession has had a very strong impact on those plans.

“There has been considerable focus on the differences among various generations, but our research confirms many similarities,” said Max Messmer, chairman and CEO of Robert Half International and author of Human Resources Kit for Dummies. “Understanding the values shared by nearly all employees, particularly in light of changing economic conditions, can help companies enhance their recruitment and retention efforts.”


Generational similarities

Following are five similarities among the generations revealed in the Robert Half research:

  1. For all generations surveyed, working for a stable company and having job security were two of the most important aspects of the work environment, beating out having a short commute or working for a socially responsible company.
  2. When evaluating employment offers, salary, company stability, and benefits were the most important factors for all three generations, according to those polled.
  3. Health care coverage, dental coverage, vacation time, and 401(k) matching were the highest valued benefits for all generations surveyed.
  4. Among professionals who plan to work past the traditional retirement age, strong majorities in all generations cited the past recession as an important factor in their decision.
  5. The most commonly cited benefit of being part of multigenerational work teams was bringing together various experience levels to provide knowledge in specific areas.

Generational differences

Following are five differences among the generations revealed in the Robert Half research:

  1. When it comes to post-recession career plans, more Gen Yers (36 percent) than Gen Xers (30 percent) and baby boomers (24 percent) planned to look for new job opportunities.
  2. Gen Xers polled were more inclined to enhance their skill sets (38 percent) and build tenure with their companies (33 percent) in the aftermath of the recession than other generations.
  3. A greater percentage of baby boomers (54 percent) than Gen X (46 percent) or Gen Y (39 percent) respondents said they will work past the traditional retirement age.
  4. More Gen Xers (34 percent) than baby boomers (27 percent) said they had increased their retirement savings since the recession began.
  5. More baby boomers (54 percent) than Gen X (45 percent) or Gen Y (35 percent) employees identified the greatest challenge when working with multiple generations as having differing work ethics and approaches to work/life balance; more Gen Yers attributed difficulties to differing communication styles (29 percent for Gen Y versus 16 percent for both Gen X respondents and baby boomers).

“Many employees, particularly Gen Y professionals, are biding their time in their current employment situations and plan to make a move when they feel the economy is on firmer footing,” said Brett Good, a Robert Half International district president. “Now is the time for employers to take action and outline career paths within their company for strong performers. Compensation reviews also should be conducted to ensure that pay is competitive.”

The study was developed by Robert Half and conducted by an independent research firm. More than 1,400 professionals in North America who are employed full-time and have college degrees, or are earning college degrees, were surveyed for the project, including 502 hiring managers. Respondents included members of the baby boomer generation (approximately 46 to 64 years old), Generation X (approximately 32 to 45 years old) and Generation Y (approximately 21 to 31 years oldwho have entered the workforce, have college degrees, or are currently attending college).


About Robert Half International:

Robert Half International is a specialized staffing firm with more than 360 worldwide staffing locations. The company’s specialized staffing divisions include Accountemps, Robert Half Finance & Accounting, and Robert Half Management Resources, for temporary, full-time, and senior-level project professionals, respectively, in the fields of accounting and finance; OfficeTeam, for highly skilled temporary administrative support; Robert Half Technology, for technology professionals; Robert Half Legal, for project and full-time staffing of attorneys, paralegals, and legal support personnel; and The Creative Group, for creative, advertising, marketing, and Web design professionals.

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