The XYZs of employee satisfaction


Happy employees make happy clients, and what suits baby boomers may not fit millennials.

Getty ImagesIn a recent column, I provided seven ways to improve client satisfaction. While it's a good start, it's just that-a start. A comprehensive understanding of client satisfaction would be incomplete if we failed to consider its relationship to employee satisfaction.

If your staff ain't happy, ain't nobody happy

Whether or not employees are happy depends on how well their desires and expectations are being met in the workplace, and these appear to vary by age.  

For example, when I started practicing veterinary medicine, 65-hour workdays were the norm, and there was very little discussion of (or even concern with) time off or working conditions. Making money to provide for my family was the goal, and I was happy as long as my family had what they needed-although I missed the fact that what they often needed was me!

Yet, it's becoming increasingly clear that what motivated my late baby boomer generation doesn't have the same appeal for Generation Z (or X or Y, for that matter).  

Recently, a good friend (and fellow late baby boomer) and I were discussing industry changes and how today's veterinarians are different from previous generations. “They aren't interested in working 60-hour weeks,” he balked. “They would rather be home at 5:30 than make money. Nobody wants to work!”

This is, of course, an oversimplified view of the millennial mindset. And as millennials will continue to increase in the workplace in both number and influence, it would behoove us older folks to form a better understanding of their desires and expectations for the sake of both employee and customer satisfaction.  

How did we get here?

To better understand where we are today, context is king. With a little help from an April 2013 Talented Heads article, let's commence a (very) short history lesson.

Baby boomers were born between the mid-1940s and the mid-1960s. Though many of us in this generation entered the world during a time of economic hardship, we have witnessed immense economic growth over the course of our lives. Hard work, long hours, sacrifice and delayed gratification were often the hallmarks of motivation and reward for baby boomers, which is at least partly why we struggle to understand the mindsets of younger associates and employees.

Born between the mid-1960's and early 1980s, members of Generation X were heavily shaped by global political happenings, such as the Vietnam War, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War. When compared with baby boomers, Gen-Xers tend to be more comfortable embracing ethnic, racial and religious diversity.

People born between the 1980s and 2000, Generation Y, are commonly referred to as millennials. Gen Y has grown up around the internet, cell phones, laptops and tablets. Being connected via technology is a way of life.

Many millennials have watched their baby boomer parents trudge through corporate jobs and have developed different workplace ideals. A 2016 Fidelity study cited in a May 2016 USA Todayarticle found that millennials were willing to take a pay cut of around $7,600 in exchange for improved quality of work life. For Generation Y, the article says, money and benefits rank below a healthy, happy work environment and meaningful work.

Motivating millennials

Thus, as foreign as it may seem to baby boomers, sweetening the money pot may not increase millennials' willingness to work or work output (assuming compensation is at least adequate). As Scott Dobroski, a spokesperson for, told USA Todaythis past April, “If [employees] do not see work/life balance where they can go out and learn about the world, [a better salary] does not interest them enough. They want to go and work somewhere where they are going to feel valued.”

It's crucial for older employers to recognize these desires and expectations in order to attract and maintain happy millennial employees, because again-you can't have satisfied clients without satisfied employees.

And don't get too comfortable. Employee expectations and desires will continue to morph. Though I can't predict the future, Generation Z (children born after 2000) will likely be highly connected, tech-savvy social media users. And if trends continue, work will continue to be less consuming and less about the bottom line.

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