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Motivating the 21st-century worker: A case study of Maslow's hierarchy of needs as it applies to the current generationally diverse workforce

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 2009
Dissertation
Author: Janice Carter-Steward
Abstract:
The purpose of this study was to research Maslow's hierarchy of needs as a motivational theory for 21st-century workers. How does the hierarchic pyramid relate to today's diverse generational workforce? During his initial research of motivation, Abraham Maslow's study did not involve a multigenerational workforce. It appears that no one motivational theory addresses a single generation, nor are the theories known to be specific to all generations. Today's leaders face challenges of effectively managing four generations in the workforce: Seniors, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y. The workforce's moral values and structures achieved by Seniors and Baby Boomers have deteriorated throughout the years, resulting in an emotional strain for current managers trying to maintain a current generational productive workforce. Motivational theories have been studied and researched to enhance management effectiveness. This study revisited Maslow's hierarchy of needs, as it applies to today's diverse generational workforce, to determine if there would be any significant changes. There is a growing need for resources that can be used to better understand and improve management effectiveness in addressing the generational differences in businesses and organizations. Successful management is never easy, and is further complicated by the multigenerational workplace. Managers must be prepared to lead effectively and motivate individuals across all generations to increase and sustain high-level workplace performance. The researcher studied the motivational needs per four diverse generations in the workforce using Maslow's hierarchy of needs as a motivational theory model to observe if the theory can be applied by managers to motivate the four generations of workers in the 21st century. In this qualitative study, questions were modified for a greater understanding and queried among 25 participants representing the four generations. Per the results of responses to a focus group, it was determined that the current generations identify motivation by situation rather than by definition. Therefore, the researcher recommends that further research be completed in a much greater depth to gather a greater understanding of generational success in the workplace as it relates to motivation.

Table of Contents Acknowledgments v i

List of Tables

x List of Figures x i

CHAPTER 1. INTRODUCTION 1 Introduction to the Problem 1 Background of the Study 4 Statement of the Problem 6 Purpose of the Study 8 Rationale 10 Research Questions 12 Significance of the Study 13 Definition of Terms 15 Assumptions and Limitations 16 Nature of the Study 18 Organization of the Remainder of the Study 18 CHAPTER 2. LITERATURE REVIEW 20 Introduction 20 Generational Diversity and Motivation 28 Four Generations, Four Attitudes, and Motivational Behaviors 37 Maslow and Motivation 46 Other Motivational Theorists 52 Literature Update 56

viii

Conclusion 57 CHAPTER 3. METHODOLOGY 60 Introduction 60 Research Design 66 The Sampling Method 68 Setting 70 Instrumentation and Review of the Focus Groups 70 Data Collection 72 Data Analysis 75 Validity and Reliability 78 Ethical Considerations 80 Expected Findings 80 CHAPTER 4. RESULTS 82 Introduction 82 Focus Group Selection and Process 82 Interview Process per Generation—Responses and Perceptions 84 Focus Group Identification and Coding 86 Research Questions Results 97 Analysis of Research Questions 98 Summary 111 CHAPTER 5. DISCUSSION, IMPLICATIONS, RECOMMENDATIONS 112 Introduction 112 Summary and Discussion of Results 113

ix

Conclusions 116 Recommendations for Future Research 123 REFERENCES 126 APPENDIX. FOCUS GROUP QUESTIONS 134

x List of Tables Table 1. Participation Codes for the Research Subjects 87 Table 2. Deviations in Language: Maslow Versus 21st Century 92 Table 3. Participant Characteristics 94 Table 4. Frequency per Maslow’s Five Levels of Needs 102 Table 5. Maslow and 21st-Century Comparison: Most Important Needs 103 Table 6. Needs Most Shared 106 Table 7. Maslow and 21st-Century Comparison: Most Shared Needs 108 Table 8. Gainsharing 109 Table 9. Summary per Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Generational Results 121

xi

List of Figures Figure 1. Concept analysis framework 71 Figure 2. Mapping of Maslow’s motivational factors 91 Figure 3. Motivational factors 93

1 CHAPTER 1. INTRODUCTION

Introduction to the Problem The success of any organization has become dependent upon the effectiveness of its management, coupled with the effectiveness of management styles utilized to motivate and enhance employee performance. Across organizations, corporate leaders are strategically placed in their designated positions to ensure that the business provides superior products or services for their targeted customer base. Corporate leaders are one entity that gives surety to business success, and the workforce is another entity that assists businesses. Managers should be able to motivate a workforce that can assure that the tasks are completed in a timely fashion to promote profitability and satisfy stakeholder interests. A successful company is very dependent on the management and leadership skills of the effective manager and his or her understanding of motivational behavior models, as they apply to generationally diverse subordinates. The change in the generational workforce structure is noticed by businesses as well as business industries that employ a generational workforce. Due to the generational shift of the work population, companies are preparing the necessary resources needed to provide managers with the tools and knowledge necessary to adapt a style that most effectively motivates their personnel. The 21st century has brought about many changes in management and leadership. It is essential to be savvy about generational differences because in the 21st century generations are working together more than ever before, thanks to the demise of the bureaucratic organization in favor of a horizontal style, new technology, globalization, and a more information-friendly atmosphere. (Arsenault, 2004, ¶ 6)

2 Managers should understand the needs and wants of the current and next generations, regarding motivation and performance in the organization. The chosen management style should be one that will successfully motivate the employees they manage and give surety to performing their duties in accordance with the organization’s objectives and financial goals. Leaders must understand that employees are one of the most valuable assets within the business; therefore, the administration understands how to effectively motivate them to gain maximum productivity in the workplace. Businesses and employees alike are seeking a win–win situation that results in profitable gains for the business and employees, with varied responsibilities in the workplace. The current workforce is comprised of a diverse age–generational span that characterizes four generations. To be effective, managers must recognize and respond to the multigenerational needs. Companies and their management staffs should also be acquainted with the motivational necessities that will allow them to satisfy the employees and enhance the work performance of each generation. Given these organizational dynamics, the most empowered managers will exceed the company’s expectations in being able to motivate employees, regardless of their generational group. This concept has been understood and applied for several decades. Abraham Maslow was one of the founding fathers of early management learning theories. In 1943, he published his motivational theory, which is known as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. This theory, with some modification, is valid today in understanding human motivation and forms the basis of human motivation training. He stated “it is far easier to perceive and to criticize the lacks in motivation theory than to remedy them”

3 (1943, p. 371). In this research and evaluation, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as a motivational theory was revisited to assess its application for the current multigenerational workforce, regarding management and leadership. Maslow’s end results identified and created five needs and used a pyramid to illustrate how one need grows based on the lower needs being met first (Maslow, 1954). There is a gap in the current efforts to manage and motivate four generations effectively. A modification of the hierarchy of needs attempted to determine if the same criterion motivates the current diverse generational workforce and, if it did not, where the gap exists. It is apparent that each generation and their managers distinctively understand what motivates them to enhance their performance. The results of this study sought to better define the role of managers in relation to these motivational values and what abilities they encompassed to motivate their workforce according to Maslow. The lack of motivational direction causes a drastic reduction in productivity, morale, and longevity, and can be detrimental to the business. Current leaders should be able to distinguish the values and ethics of each generation and how they differ as it relates to Maslow’s hierarchal pyramid. This knowledge is necessary to effectively manage the workforce, to ensure that management and organizational objectives are being met. The need exists to study generational employees. With the completion of the research, the findings may be useful in creating an agenda for change or reform in more successfully motivating employees across different generations.

4 Background of the Study There have been a multitude of articles and books written about each individual generation and, more recently, there have been more articles that address generational differences. A study performed by Russette, Scully, and Preziosi (2008) was conducted to gather a greater understanding of generational behaviors. “Leadership has taken on a significantly new dimension with today’s diverse global workforce” (Russette et al., p. 47). Although researchers are reviewing the future generations, a continuing need for more significant research regarding all generations and their workplace performance exists. Authors such as Crampton and Hodge (2007) are placing emphasis on the necessity for information that leads to a more enhanced understanding of generational diversity in the workplace and how that information can be used by the human resource department in hiring future managers. “Most experts seem to suggest that managers should be sensitive to differences that evolve from generational differences and adjust their style of management accordingly” (Crampton & Hodge, 2007, p. 19). In addition, understanding workplace generational diversity is significant to managers as they train future leaders to replace them as they depart the workforce (Crampton & Hodge, 2007). The value of information has increased, which necessitates that current literature addresses all four generations as they relate to each other in regard to motivation in the workforce. Research on all four generations and how managers can successfully motivate each of them to improve work performance is a valuable resource in preparing current and future managers (Crampton & Hodge, 2006). Motivational studies have failed to recognize how their theories relate to a specific diverse age–generation of workers; the theories have addressed all workers in general.

5 No prior research has tested relationships between age or generational differences and content-based work motivation. Workplace motivation has been reported to predict a plethora of organizational behaviors, so the study of how generational differences may predict these motives is crucial for advancing the field’s knowledge base. (Barbuto, n.d., p. 3)

Although it may be perceived as outdated, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has been in existence for quite a while; as such, most managers have either heard of this theory or studied it. The theory is basic and easily understood. Maslow introduced managers and psychologists to various levels of human motivational needs. He was able to categorically sort the needs as physiological needs, safety needs, belonging and love, esteem needs, and self-actualization (Maslow, 1954). This theory was studied and has been successfully used in the workplace by many managers for many years in relation to motivating their workers. There has been an evident change in society since Maslow’s initial research on human motivation. A new work order is emerging based on a continuous change cycle in the nature of organizational life and the expectations of the workforce. Evolutions and revolutions in technology, globalization, business consolidation and marketplace fragmentation have fundamentally changed the nature of organizations. Simultaneously, a workforce has emerged that is more educated, mobile, diverse and discerning in work and life choices than ever before. Whatever was left of the old social contract between employer and employee has become a casualty of the race from an industrial society to the information age. (Stum, 2001, p. 4)

The workforce currently employs four generations. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs warrants revisiting to determine whether the theory continues to meet the needs of managers endeavoring to motivate each generation.

6 Statement of the Problem The problem may be that the existence of multiple generations in the workplace requires a management theory that will allow managers to effectively motivate their staffs; therefore, Maslow’s hierarchy is a theory that may be applied to meet the needs of all generations in the workforce, to include the younger generations. Hamill (2005) stated that a new problem has risen in the workplace that does not relate to company downsizing, competition, or stress issues. The new problem is “the problem of distinct generations—the Veterans, the Baby Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y—working together and often colliding as their paths cross” (Hamill, ¶ 3). The quality and consistency of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs was assessed as it related to a diverse generation in the workforce (Stum, 2001). Per Hamill (2005), motivational theories and their application to leadership must be studied to better prepare for the next generational workforce. Hamill further stated Research indicates that people communicate based on their generational backgrounds. Each generation has distinct attitudes, behaviors, expectations, habits and motivational buttons. Learning how to communicate with the different generations can eliminate many major confrontations and misunderstandings in the workplace and the world of business. (¶ 6)

Effective communication with the generations would entail a better understanding of what motivates them in the workplace. The ability of motivational management should contribute to the employees’ performance towards job satisfaction. The abilities and qualities necessary to motivate and manage may be very different for the effective management of different generations. Hamill stated There is a serious new problem in the workplace, and it has nothing to do with downsizing, global competition, pointy-haired bosses, stress or greed. Instead, it

7 is the problem of distinct generations—the Veterans, the Baby Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y—working together and often colliding as their paths cross. (¶ 3)

Current managers, who are mostly Baby Boomers, have faced issues in regard to finding the workplace challenging as they work to address personnel issues for each generational group (Stum, 2001). Managers now have to rethink how they manage the existing generational workforce and if they are motivated by different personal, professional, and organizational standards. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs may have an affect on the current workforce in regard to motivating them in today’s workforce. One would think that compensation, which is a component of the safety need described by Maslow, is a primary motivational factor to influence job performance. Although it is commonly expected and accepted, once the employees are hired for the job or promoted within the organization, they then perceive compensation and benefits as entitlements rather than motivators (Stum). To prepare for the future workforce success, there is a need to study the two forthcoming generations (Gen X and Gen Y) and evaluate where their motivational needs peak within the hierarchy of needs pyramid. It is important that the human resource department knows what motivates employees and shares this with the management team. Which of Maslow’s needs most motivate today’s employees? Per an article written by McCoy and Mitchell (n.d.) Where does money fit in on the hierarchy of employees’ needs and wants? The literature and research is truly divided on this issue. Some surveys suggest money is low on the scale of what people want as rewards. Managers surveyed in these studies typically rate cash especially low as a performance motivator. (¶ 5)

The article further stated that employees would prefer travel or merchandise, and using this as an incentive could assist management in regard to motivating employees, but could this motivate all four generations?

8 Managers must understand the motivational factors required to hire and retain younger workers through their values and goals; what are employees seeking in the workplace? In addition to monetary compensation, human resource personnel are searching for other nonmonetary benefits, such as improved work policies and flextime schedules to retain younger employees (Young, 2008). Managers can use this information to assure that employee needs are being met; the need to gather information on motivational needs is important to management in order to enhance employee performance for the future workforce success of the 21st-century worker.

Purpose of the Study The purpose of this study was to attempt to determine the degree to which Maslow’s theory pertains to the generations. Given the growing concern and need to understand what motivates the younger generations in the workforce, several questions were addressed. What is the relationship between motivational style and its effectiveness with the generational group? How well did Maslow’s hierarchy of needs indicate what motivates each of the current generations? Because these questions are important to organizations, the purpose of this study was to revisit Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as it related to the four generations that are currently employed in the workforce. The Seniors, Baby Boomers, Generation X (Gen X), and Generation Y (Gen Y) are being led by the company’s management team. The teams are tasked with understanding the needs of each generational group and how to effectively motivate them to enhance performance in the workplace. Therefore, the need to study what motivates a diverse generational workforce exists.

9 Businesses have not prepared themselves for managing, leading, and motivating the new generations (Gen X and Gen Y) of employees. There is no substantiation that any particular theory will satisfy a particular generation; therefore, an exploratory study of Maslow’s theory in relationship to leading and motivating a diverse generation workforce was necessary to determine whether the theory was still useful. If the theory was not accurate, a change should be noted. The reason for this change would be important to the organization and today’s manager. Was it possible to relate the needs and motivations of the employees to their generational groups? A commonality of theoretical data that could be gathered to allow managers to successfully train and manage all four generations with Maslow’s theory style would be much more beneficial, rather than having multiple styles that attempted to motivate each. If management had to rely on various styles to motivate each generation, this may impact their ability to effectively manage each generation and create a greater strain on their already stressful duties and responsibilities. A one-theory motivational model, such as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, would be greatly beneficial for managers; understanding what motivates each generation within this hierarchy is even more beneficial. In today’s workforce society, businesses rely on their employees’ ability to meet the demands to either lead or stay abreast of the competition. A major portion of effective business management is the act of motivating people to achieve a specific outcome. Companies are continually searching for managers who can stimulate employees to perform through motivation. Managers must take the role of directing or controlling a business or entity that should result in a win–win situation for the company. Effective management should be able to motivate and delegate, which yields several immediate

10 benefits for managers and the entire organization. Enhancing employee performance through effective motivation allows managers to rally resources and achieve results.

Rationale The Seniors and the Baby Boomers have been active in the workforce for several decades; through past research, managers have studied what motivates and improves their performance. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs was instrumental in learning what motivates past generations to labor toward a higher level of performance in the workplace. Now that two additional generations of workers have joined the organizational environment, the motivating factors of Gen X and Gen Y in the workplace makes for a diverse workplace, and the study of Maslow’s motivational behaviors can enable managers to inspire them to succeed in corporate America. These are business matters that this study aspired to unfold. The workforce is steadily changing as the Baby Boomers leave organizations due to concerns about the companies going “from paying our dues to changing the rules” (Skaer, 2006, ¶ 7). According to Gonser (2003), the future of most businesses is focused on the wants and needs of the younger populations (Generation X and Generation Y). Therefore, it is increasingly important for the business to effectively reach the younger population through motivating and educating each generation of workers. Working closely with the generations is necessary to understand the motivating factors of each in the workplace and how they can learn new behaviors to enable them to succeed in the working environment.

11 Generational diversity is of grave importance today and managers are “busy building a workplace that recognizes this” (Lewis & Southard, 2004, ¶ 2). With Gen X and Gen Y having joined the Seniors and Baby Boomers in the current workforce, management seeks to find whether or not their moral values, ethics, and motivators are the same. This, among other attributes, indicates the need for additional research regarding the generational differences in businesses and organizations. It is also important to understand if a specific motivational theory or practice would be more effective for managing this diverse workforce population. This investigation was developed to further understand Maslow’s motivational theory and its ability to effectively motivate the current diverse generational workforce. Due to technological advancements and organizational changes, there has been a shift in the goals and objectives in the workplace, and managers should be preparing for the future (Anthony, 2006). The generational shift has managers seeking a recognized management style that will accommodate and motivate all four generations as they prepare for the transition. Maslow is one of the most prominent motivational psychologists, best known for his theory of hierarchal needs related to motivating people. Generational diversity must be studied to determine the ethical and moral values of each generation and seek a possible correlation between them. Using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, this study researched the needs as ordered by Maslow and their relationship to the current technological 21st-century group of diverse employees. Steps must be taken to accomplish the task of preparing and motivating the current and next generation to obtain the maximum production of service. A study of Maslow’s motivational factors in the workplace was needed, to conclude if the theory continued to produce the results as

12 initially described by Maslow’s earlier studies. The research was also designed to determine whether the results of Maslow’s motivational factors have remained as described by Maslow in earlier studies. Research was needed to observe Maslow’s motivational factors relative to management and employee motivation now. Gen X and Gen Y are the next generations of workers and managers; therefore, current managers must prepare to orient, motivate, and educate the generationally diverse workforce, while understanding the motivating factors of each generation’s learning styles and behaviors to enable them to succeed in the workplace.

Research Questions 1. Using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, determine the need level that is most instrumental in the motivation of each one of the four generations (Seniors, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y) in today’s workforce.

2. What are the basic needs shared by the current diverse four generations of workers based on Maslow’s original theory of needs? What is the order of priority for the 21st-century workers?

3. What are the current concerns of each generation as they relate to the motivational needs? How can managers utilize this information to enhance performance in a generationally diverse workforce?

As each of Maslow’s hierarchal needs are motivators, it is important to know what each generation prefers. While RQ1 sought which of the five needs is most instrumental to each of the four generations for motivational purposes, RQ2 sought which of the five levels is shared by each of the generations for motivational purposes. For example, while the need to be safe may result in the greatest level of needs specifically

13 for Baby Boomers, Gen X may prefer the need to belong. In addition, the need to belong may be shared by all generations. The more information management can gather in regard to generational motivational factors, the better they are served to motivate all generations of workers.

Significance of the Study In the past decade, businesses and managers have changed the manner in which they prepare for their future (Lancaster & Stillman, 2006). Corporate businesses are realizing these changes in the workforce regarding generations; these changes are impacting all types of businesses, such as the health industry, travel, hospitality, and virtual businesses, as well as the academic environment and many others (Lancaster & Stillman). They have all noted the generational shift of the current workforce population and are preparing managers to ensure that they can effectively interact with all employees and employers. As the next generation of workers enter the workforce, so do their morals and ethical values. Therefore, generational diversity must be studied to determine the steps needed to prepare and motivate the next generation of Gen X and Gen Y workers to maximize productivity and performance. Managers must have information to train, motivate, and manage each generation successfully. Each generation requires different approaches to motivate them, and managers should be able to understand each. Researchers must study the motivating factors in the workplace and share this information with the management taskforce. If this is not done, managers may not learn new behaviors to enable them to succeed. Therefore, the significance of the study was to understand Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as it applies to

14 motivating the multigenerational workforce, with the four generations that are currently working. The information that results from this study may initially benefit the human resource departments, as they identify and refer potential management candidates for companies and create training curricula to assist these pools of employees with managing generational diversity. Workers are entering the workforce as they graduate from high school, and those who are retirement age are working beyond their retirement years. Anthony (2006) asked the following question: “How do leaders learn to manage four generations?” (¶ 7). This is an important question; therefore, the importance of this study was to respond to this question. As the largest working group (the Boomers) exit the workforce, the ability of the Gen X management staff to successfully motivate a younger generation of workers (Gen Y) is to ensure that profitability is uninterrupted. The study will also benefit organizations, as it reviewed what must be done to allow for a smooth transition of workers from one generation to the next. Current Generation X employees are moving into subordinate positions and are in need of data to assist them in better understanding their own and other generations’ motivational needs. Therefore, the veteran generations must be prepared for the future business leaders by motivating employees to excel in performance. If this new generation is motivated by some or all of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, identifying those that are the most important is a breakthrough for managers The Management of Change is a subject that is destined to be with us for many years to come, while people adjust to a world of work that is likely to be more fragmented than previous generations had come to expect. (Randall, 2004, p. 3)

Full document contains 146 pages
Abstract: The purpose of this study was to research Maslow's hierarchy of needs as a motivational theory for 21st-century workers. How does the hierarchic pyramid relate to today's diverse generational workforce? During his initial research of motivation, Abraham Maslow's study did not involve a multigenerational workforce. It appears that no one motivational theory addresses a single generation, nor are the theories known to be specific to all generations. Today's leaders face challenges of effectively managing four generations in the workforce: Seniors, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y. The workforce's moral values and structures achieved by Seniors and Baby Boomers have deteriorated throughout the years, resulting in an emotional strain for current managers trying to maintain a current generational productive workforce. Motivational theories have been studied and researched to enhance management effectiveness. This study revisited Maslow's hierarchy of needs, as it applies to today's diverse generational workforce, to determine if there would be any significant changes. There is a growing need for resources that can be used to better understand and improve management effectiveness in addressing the generational differences in businesses and organizations. Successful management is never easy, and is further complicated by the multigenerational workplace. Managers must be prepared to lead effectively and motivate individuals across all generations to increase and sustain high-level workplace performance. The researcher studied the motivational needs per four diverse generations in the workforce using Maslow's hierarchy of needs as a motivational theory model to observe if the theory can be applied by managers to motivate the four generations of workers in the 21st century. In this qualitative study, questions were modified for a greater understanding and queried among 25 participants representing the four generations. Per the results of responses to a focus group, it was determined that the current generations identify motivation by situation rather than by definition. Therefore, the researcher recommends that further research be completed in a much greater depth to gather a greater understanding of generational success in the workplace as it relates to motivation.