How work complaints vary by generation

How work complaints vary by generation

There have been seemingly innumerable articles and blog posts lately about how different generations cannot get along with one another in the workplace. Most such pieces are full of generalities and hyperbole:

  • Baby Boomers hate technology and call the kids whippersnappers!

  • Millennials need constant praise and want to be CEO in five years!

  • Gen X needs to wrap up early today so they can go to their child’s soccer game tonight!

Fortunately, PayScale has taken a more useful approach and compiled a survey based not on how generations complain about each other, but instead how they complain about their jobs. “Work Values and Attitudes by Generation” explores the work complaints of the three main generations in the workplace today and how feel about their stress levels, job satisfaction and perks. The results reveal some insights into how organizations can better understand these generational differences and do more to recruit and retain employees of all ages.

Job satisfaction and stress

Not surprisingly, baby boomers have the highest levels of job satisfaction, job meaning and stress. This is because they typically have more experience and higher levels of responsibility, hence the added stress. With that increase in responsibility comes a greater ability to change their organization, product or industry for the better, leading to higher rates of satisfaction and meaning.

On the flip side, millennials in your company may feel powerless. They have the lowest levels of responsibility — and low stress as a result — but they also lack job satisfaction and meaning. They also may believe there’s no hope for advancement.

“I’ve noticed that Millennials often complain that there are not nearly enough professional development opportunities and clear, defined paths to advancement,” says David Erickson, vice president of online marketing for Minneapolis PR firm Karwoski and Courage. Millennials have been raised to better themselves at every opportunity. Let them know the criteria required for an eventual promotion and you’re likely to be pleasantly surprised by their performance.

On-the-job annoyances

When asked what one thing they’d change about their job, baby boomers beat out their co-workers in wanting to change their bosses or teammates, which may indicate a communication issue. Millennials didn’t like their specific jobs or their schedules, suggesting they’d like more flexibility. Gen Xers were the chief complainers in only one category: their commute.

The commute beef makes sense when you consider Gen X is considerably busy all the time. Many of them are caring for children and aging parents as well, says Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation, an online incorporation document preparation service. In her experience, those employees between baby boomers and millennials often prefer to do things themselves rather than have a long meeting to discuss, because they are so pressed for time. They also prefer simple, streamlined processes.


If you’re trying to recruit a more diverse age group to your company, knowing which perks and benefits each prefers could be a big help. In the PayScale survey, responses reflected the stage of life each of these generations is currently in. Millennials like paid overtime, bus passes and pet insurance the most, and were least interested in profit sharing and retirement.

Gen X likes having the flexibility to work from home or take a paid sabbatical. Among its least preferred options are tech perks such cell phones and laptops.

Above all else, baby boomers prefer no perks. That’s right — they’d rather be working on a contract basis for themselves. The perk they like least? The option to dress casual dress for work.

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