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How does work ethic differ by age in a multi-generational workforce?

How does work ethic differ by age in a multi-generational workforce?

When asked how much effort they say they put into their job daily, the majority of people surveyed (51.8%) said that they put in enough effort to do their jobs well.

With a multi-generational workforce, it is no surprise that everyone has a different idea of how they should behave in the workplace — from the willingness to pick up extra shifts to voluntarily picking up more responsibility. As changing professional behaviours become more prominent, this poses an intriguing question: how does work ethic differ based on our age? And how do different people feel about topics relating to work ethic?

In light of this, SM&T's recent study dives into how work ethic plays into different age groups and why there could be major differences. Covering topics such as overtime, motivation, and workload, the survey analysed the responses to uncover how working attitudes have evolved over time and gain insight into some of the reasons behind these changes.

As a basis, a majority (24%) of respondents reported that they had been employed for 31 to 40 years. 

First, over three-quarters of participants had picked up extra shifts at work.

  • Those aged 65+ were least likely to have picked up extra shifts (67.9%),
  • Compared to 35-44-year-olds, who were the most likely to add extra shifts into their schedule (83.5%).
  • Those aged 18-24 and 55-64 had very similar results, with around 73% of each picking up extra shifts.

As the study states, it seems that there isn’t much difference in attitudes when it comes to picking up additional shifts either when asked or of their own accord.

When it comes to overtime, over half of the participants had worked paid overtime, compared to 12.8% who had worked unpaid overtime. However, the 18-24-year-old category was the only age range in which the majority of participants said that they had worked unpaid overtime, while all other age categories’ highest percentages were for working paid overtime. This could be contributing to lower work ethic since younger generations seem to be lacking fair compensation for their additional effort.

  • The 18-24-year-old category also had the highest percentage of people not working overtime (33.3%).
  • This was followed by the 65+ category (16.1%).
  • Interestingly, 35-44-year-olds had the biggest percentage difference in terms of working paid and unpaid overtime at 59.8% vs 7.9%.

Taking this further, more than half (53.3%) of 18-24-year-olds were unwilling to work unpaid overtime to complete a job, while 80.4% of those aged 65 and above were willing to do so. Despite this difference, over three-quarters of all participants said they would work over their hours without pay to finish a job, indicating a high work ethic across all age categories.

Looking at workload, close to three-quarters have also volunteered to take on more responsibility. Breaking this down, those over 65 had the highest percentage of participants who had volunteered to take on more responsibility at work (78.6%), compared to the 18-24-year-old category which had the lowest percentage (60%), showing a significant difference in ways of working.

On top of this, of those who had voluntarily taken on more responsibility at work, almost half didn’t receive financial compensation for their extra efforts. Particularly, 25-34-year-olds had the highest percentage of participants who had volunteered to take on more at work but weren’t given financial compensation for it.

The study also looked into the effect of workload on employee wellbeing; nearly 85% of participants said that they had felt stressed at some point in their careers due to their workload. Of this, 73.2% of the participants aged 65+ had felt stressed due to work, making them the lowest percentage. This is compared to the 35-44 and 45-54-year-old categories who both came in at 89%.

When asked how much effort they say they put into their job daily, the majority of participants (51.8%) said that they put in enough effort to do their jobs well. This was followed by 29.5% of participants who said they put in all their effort. In the minority, only 2.1% admit that that they put no effort into their job.

By age, 25-34-year-olds had the highest percentage of participants who said that they put in all of their effort at their jobs each day. 

With this, more than four in five participants said that they care what their manager thinks of their work. However, the 55-64-year-old category appears to care the most, with over 87% saying that they care. In contrast, far fewer of those in the lowest age category (18-24) said that they care what their manager thinks. Although the youngest age category had the lowest percentage of participants who cared what their managers thought, the percentage was still relatively high at just over 73%.

Lastly, the study looked into whether employees found it easy to quit; over half of the participants said they wouldn’t find it easy to quit their jobs. Perhaps unsurprisingly, those over 65 were the only category where the majority would find it easy to quit, with almost 65% answering yes to this question. On the other hand, the 25-34-year-old category had the highest percentage of participants who wouldn’t find it easy to quit their job, with over 63% responding with no.


Lead image / SM&T

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