Workplace Issues

Gauging Work Ethic in a Multigenerational Environment

To leverage the benefits of a generationally diverse workforce, CFOs should understand employees’ unique preferences and behaviors.
Gauging Work Ethic in a Multigenerational Environment
Photo: Getty Images

Managing a multigenerational workforce, something that nearly all business leaders do, can be extremely challenging. Between constructing the ideal work environment, balancing the right amount of benefit offerings, and ensuring employee morale and productivity is high, CFOs and their fellow leaders are dealing with lingering labor problems that may make gauging work ethic among employees and potential candidates difficult. 

When members of a team can be decades apart in age, and develop both professional and life experience in completely different worlds, their views on hard work may vary.

The willingness to sacrifice, whether it’s working on the weekends or missing a personal event, has served as a gauge of work ethic and company commitment for decades. To many employees working in investment banking, corporate accounting, and other sectors within finance, the idea of a 40-hour work week can be a pipedream for the first several years of their careers. 

Gen Z’s embracement of work-life balance and authenticity in the workplace, mainly due to their only professional experience during the pandemic and afterward, has resulted in a general unwillingness to take on positions that require 60-hour-plus work weeks without any flexibility. Their views on work and hustling to prove their work ethic are “different” than other generations, according to Sam Chen, the 22-year-old founder of the Gen-Z-focused job search site Fetti. 

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Sam Chen

“Gen Z’s perspective on hustle culture differs from previous generations,” said Chen. “Rather than grinding it out for success or material wealth, Gen Z is focused on pursuing goals that align with their values and aspirations. They strive to become the best version of themselves and seek work that enables them to make a positive impact and contribute to changing the world for the better.” 

She continued: “The pandemic has significantly shaped this mindset, prompting individuals to reevaluate their priorities and true values in life. Work-life balance and impactful work have emerged as top priorities for both millennials and Gen Z on [our platform], reflecting a shift in priorities.”

Rather than grinding it out for success or material wealth, Gen Z is focused on pursuing goals that align with their values and aspirations. — Sam Chen, founder of Fetti

Gen Z has been criticized for lacking the ability to communicate, but Chen believes the narrative is all wrong. She believes that Gen Z’s communication skills are strong, and their ability to harness many platforms to relay their professional needs as a group is something that only they would be capable of. 

“It’s important to note that Gen Z has gained attention as the loudest voice in this cultural movement, primarily due to their adeptness in utilizing social media and digital platforms to express their perspectives,” said Chen. “They effectively harness the power of communication and technology to amplify their messages, making their voices more prominent in discussions about work-life balance and redefining the concept of success.”

Productivity in Flexible Environments

In today’s work environment, where face-to-face meetings can be rare, opportunities to gauge employees’ work ethic is increasingly challenging.

When running the finances for companies with thousands of employees, Michiel Boere, former vice president of finance and global CFO of delivery at Uber and now the current CFO of Remote, believes gauging employee work ethic should be about fairness regardless of age. According to him, leaders should provide a place where employees feel empowered to create an environment where they are most productive, to give all employees a chance to do their best.

“All workers should be evaluated fairly, regardless of age,” said Boere. “The shift to remote work has challenged traditional methods of assessing productivity since visual cues like being present in the office are no longer applicable. Some companies still measure hours worked and have even introduced remote surveillance and monitoring tools, but these lead to a lack of trust and strained relationships between management and employees.”

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Michiel Boere

“For the vast majority of roles, it doesn’t matter how much time someone spends in front of their computer or what time of day they’re completing their work,” Boere continued. “What is important is that the person’s output is what you expect from someone in their role. The freedom to work when they feel most productive, and take breaks to live their life, actually powers greater productivity.”

To evaluate work ethic, leaders should prioritize building trust through regular one-on-one meetings. — Michiel Boere, CFO of Remote

In an evaluation of work ethic, Boere instructs leaders to prioritize communication. By reading visual cues and responses to expectations, leaders can understand how their employees view their workloads. Through this, leaders can gauge work ethic, morale, and productivity simultaneously. 

“To evaluate work ethic, leaders should prioritize building trust through regular one-on-one meetings, and these interactions provide an opportunity to establish a personal connection, discuss day-to-day work, and foster open and honest conversations about performance,” Boere said. 

“Setting clear expectations and documenting them for the employee and the manager is crucial. Well-defined goals and metrics tied to job responsibilities should guide performance evaluation. By tracking the right metrics that align with the role, the focus shifts from hours worked to actual results achieved.”

Different Strokes for Different Folks

Those who waited outside of record stores for Van Halen’s 1984 won’t perfectly mesh with those who have never experienced a world without a smartphone, and that’s okay. If finance leaders keep fairness and life experience in mind, hard workers can be identified, encouraged, and promoted. Leaders should be content with the idea that age gaps of this size among employees are a fairly new phenomenon, and there is no perfect solution to creating a work environment that is best for all. 

Whether it’s incorporating technology, enforcing in-person work requirements, or instituting complete salary transparency in the workplace, the life experience of employees heavily varies by generation, and it will be tough to please everyone.

Leaders who embrace flexibility and show a willingness to train and accommodate employees who may be resistant to change will most likely have success. They will be able to not only manage a multigenerational workforce but find out which employees are likely to be the top performers down the road.