How to motivate Generation Y

A recent study by Cass Business School reported that businesses are underprepared for the retirement of the baby boomer generation and the leadership challenges that will arise as generation X and generation Y form a larger and more influential part of the workforce. But what, exactly is the definition of each generation and how do they differ?

Jane Sunley, CEO of Purple Cubed – a consultancy specialising in workplace engagement – explains: “The baby boomers are the generational cohort born between 1945 and around 1961, generation X were born between around 1962 and 1981 and generation Y from around 1981 to 2001,” she says.

“Don’t get too hung up on the dates though, because everybody says that they’re different. The important thing is to appreciate that every generation has been influenced by the environment of their upbringing: education, parents and – in the case of generation Y – the biggest influence has been technology.”

Understanding the differences between the upbringing, character and motivations of each generation, says Sunley, can give organisations the edge when managing with the shift in their internal demographics. Here are five key differences she highlights between the three generations, the appreciation of which could help directors form a more effective leadership strategy…

Reason they work

Baby boomers ‘live to work’, while generation X ‘work to live’ and generation Y work to fund their lifestyle.


Baby boomers like making their own decisions without consultation, generation X prefer to take direction and then get on with it, while generation Y need constant collaboration and direction.

Expected response to work

Baby boomers confidently ‘know they’ve done a good job’, while generation X prefer regular feedback, generation Y, meanwhile, like immediate feedback.


Baby boomers prefer to keep opinions to themselves, generation X share their opinions, while generation Y think you want to know their opinions.

Attitude to change

Baby boomers are resistant to change, while generation X relish change and generation Y are flexible.

WATCH: Purple Cubed CEO Jane Sunley on motivating Gen Y

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Since we employ people aged between 18 to over 60 in a force of over 50 people as an SME the observations above are very accurate when articulated like this, and very refreshing.

The overall feeling I have though is that an employee of any age likes & needs communication and the feeling that they are valued, do a good job (if they do); that their presence benefits the "team" and that no matter what their position is that they also have a voice that is always listened to.

By identifying promotion possibilites in a (minimum) yearly review it also allows to employer to spotlight potential growth potential from within his or her best asset - the staff - and this will benefit ALL generations involved.