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McKenzie Robinson | SBJ

Generations in the Workforce Share Insight on Job Motivators

SBJ Economic Growth Survey: Demographic Shifts

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Four years into her role as executive director of Springfield Ballet Inc., Ashley Walden wasn’t expecting to make a job change before the coronavirus pandemic. But reexamining her work-life balance over the past 18 months contributed to a professional shift to Mercy Health Foundation.

Walden started Aug. 2 as the nonprofit’s senior development officer. She said culture is a big draw for her in the job market, noting the foundation’s fundraising focus and relationship building in the community were also attractive.

“For me, it’s a company or environment that I believe in their mission and believe in the work that they do,” she said. “(Mercy) was a bit of a mission pivot for me, but it was still something I believed strongly in. That’s probably going to be my No. 1 when I’m looking at a different employer. The work-life balance is going to be my No. 2.”

Walden is a millennial – one of four generations currently in the workforce. According to Pew Research Center, those in the millennial generation are born between 1981 and 1996. They’re preceded by baby boomers, which covers those born 1946-64, and Generation X, 1965-80. Those working among Generation Z were born between 1997 and 2012.

The pandemic pretty much necessitated a change in jobs for Matthew Little. As part of Gen Z, Little said he’s still considering his long-term career options. He starting working in September 2020 as a server and bartender at The Roost Bar & Grill. Previously, he worked at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, but he exited after the movie theater temporarily shuttered for months amid the pandemic.

As both of Little’s most recent jobs deal face-to-face with the public, working remotely wasn’t an option. Little said that’s no problem.

“Working from home, I’d have to be moving. It’s very hard for me to sit still in one spot if I had to for the entire day,” he said. “If I had to be at the workplace for the entire workweek, I’m totally fine with that.”

Springfield Business Journal’s 2021 Economic Growth Survey conducted by H2R Market Research noted the importance of the working-from-home issue, as 71% of respondents said their company allows employees to sometimes work remotely. That’s a 22% increase from those allowing occasional remote work in the survey responses received in April 2020. However, 39% of respondents said their company always allowed working from home in April 2020. That number dropped by 25% in this year’s survey.

For John Acosta, remote work was the norm before it was popularized this past year. For three years he’s worked remotely as vice president of marketing and business development for Tulsa, Oklahoma-based Major League Fishing. He began employment with the company, which includes a competitive bass fishing league, after leaving Bass Pro Shops 12 years ago. Acosta, who is part of Gen X, works from his Springfield home.

“It was actually a huge factor for me – the flexibility to work from home and design my day,” he said, noting he also travels across the country to company events. “Honestly, I find myself a lot more productive. I can work around my life and do a lot of other things.”

Acosta said Major League Fishing’s Tulsa office was remodeled during the pandemic, adding he always expects the company to have a hybrid approach to its workforce.

“Even though we’re decentralized, as we move forward, hybrid setups are going to be the norm, at least in our organization,” he said.

Returning to an in-office setting is unlikely, Acosta said.

“Never is a strong word, but I don’t see myself ever going back to a corporate environment or an office environment,” he said.

As a baby boomer, Kay Logsdon has spent the past several decades in the workforce. Currently vice president and director of applications for behavior science company Whysdom, Logsdon is working more travel into her life as she looks towards retirement at a yet-to-be-determined date.

“I’m trying to cut back to where it’s no more than a week or two of work in a given month,” she said. “That allows me to transition out.”

Logsdon said she’s mostly worked at home over the past 18 months.

“The biggest change since COVID is greater flexibility with work schedules and more opportunity to work from home,” she said. “All of us at Whysdom have that opportunity.”

Walden said Mercy also allows remote work – something she admits was a challenge for her last year with Springfield Ballet.

“I would not work from home hardly ever before the pandemic. During the pandemic, when it first started, that was something I really had to get used to,” she said. “The connectivity to employees and donors and all of that was a huge learning curve for me.”

In her new position, she hopes to have more in-person meetings in adherence with Mercy’s current guidelines or make virtual calls when necessary. 

Jeff Foster, assistant professor in psychology at Missouri State University, has researched motives, personality and organizational culture among the generations in the workforce. While he said the younger generations are generally more comfortable with technology, the pandemic has pushed the workforce forward into greater reliance on it.

“That’s a pretty big generational difference in terms of familiarity and comfort with different technology. With that goes – to a lesser degree – things like work expectations in terms of a flexible work schedule and being able to work from home and remotely,” he said. “To the degree that it depends so heavily on technology, it’s obviously pretty common to hear from older folks who have worked most of their career but don’t really like Zoom meetings.”

Foster said you can’t know much about a person just by knowing what generation they are in, as differences abound. There are workers in every generation who are extroverts or introverts, have agreeable or abrasive personalities, or may be loyal to a company or a job-hopper. People in younger generations tend to get pegged as motivated more by money than loyalty to a company, he said.

“Those claims are usually really exaggerated, if not completely untrue,” he said. “Whenever we look at things like personality and motive, everyone is different. You can’t tell what someone’s personality is like or what drives or motivates them just by knowing what year they were born.”

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