Age and Employee Satisfaction in Barbados

AE Quarterly December 2017

It is reasonable to expect that employees at the beginning of their career will be less satisfied and engaged than those approaching the end of theirs. The assumption is that an employee’s early jobs would not be fully aligned with their professional goals, but by the time they are heading for retirement, they would have achieved their goals. As such, older employees would be more successful and thus more engaged than younger employees. Apart from success, there are other factors that could in theory influence engagement levels. For example, different generations are at different points in their lives and want different things from their jobs, and each generation has had drastically different experiences that affect their cumulative knowledge, experience and expectations at work.

However, research conducted by Gallup suggests that, while there is some merit to this hypothesis of improved job satisfaction with age, the improvement in satisfaction levels is marginal at best[1]. Furthermore, research recently conducted by Antilles Economics and Blueprint Creative for Barbados confirms that, on aggregate, employee engagement does not appear to improve notably with age[2].

Source: Antilles Economics and Blueprint Creative (2017). The Employee View of the Employer Brand; Gallup (2016). State of the American Workplace 2016

Although aggregate engagement does not vary significantly by age, in the case of Barbados there are other factors that influence engagement that do appear to vary by age.

Perception of job vs. career

The results for Antilles Economics/Blueprint Creative research for Barbados show that on average, persons whose current job falls along their chosen career path averaged higher employee net promoter scores (eNPS) (-25.7) than those for whom their current job is just a source of income and no more (-76.1), and these results are consistent regardless of age. However, when we consider age differences, two findings emerge. First, younger persons on a career path were generally more engaged than Baby Boomers that were also on a career path. Similarly, younger persons employed in ‘just a job’ were significantly less engaged than their older counterparts. Together, the results suggest that perceiving their job as a career had a much stronger, positive impact on engagement levels for younger workers. Secondly, the gap in engagement levels for Baby Boomers was notably smaller, implying that the engagement levels of older persons may be less influenced by their perceptions of their job than their younger peers.

Source: Antilles Economics and Blueprint Creative (2017). The Employee View of the Employer Brand

Training and career development opportunities

Opportunities for training and career development are important to all employees and positively influence their engagement levels. The impact for millennials, however, is particularly strong, with engagement levels improving steadily the happier they are with available training opportunities. The results when considering career and professional development also show steady improvement for millennials the happier they are with available opportunities, with a similar trend emerging for Generation Xers.

Source: Antilles Economics and Blueprint Creative (2017). The Employee View of the Employer Brand

Source: Antilles Economics and Blueprint Creative (2017). The Employee View of the Employer Brand

Alignment of personal and corporate values

A hypothesis that the research tested was that employees working in organisations where there personal values and their company’s values were not aligned would exhibit lower levels of engagement. The results support this theory: engagement levels improved, from -81.7 to -20.8, when employees agreed that the two sets of values were aligned. The engagement levels of millennials and Generation Xers appear to be highly influenced by values alignment, but the engagement levels of Baby Boomers hardly changes, suggesting that similar values do not play a major role in driving their engagement.

Source: Antilles Economics and Blueprint Creative (2017). The Employee View of the Employer Brand

Corporate culture

Finally, we examine the impact of corporate culture. Culture is an intangible concept that encompasses what matters and the way things are done within an organisation. Some aspects of culture can be regulated or mandated – such as flexibility of work and working hours – while others reflect interpersonal relationships and perceptions of opportunities. There are a few underlying ideas, however, that tend to always emerge when discussing the hallmarks of exceptional corporate cultures and were explicitly investigated in the research:

  • Strong leadership;
  • Effective teams; and,
  • Opportunities for professional development.

These three areas can therefore be considered as potential indicators of corporate culture. Creating a separate culture ‘index’ permits the analysis of employees’ perceptions of whether aspects of their company’s culture is ‘best in class’. The calculation of the culture index is a simple count of the number of culture areas identified by the employee, ranging from 0 to 3. Culture emerged as a strong predictor of employee engagement as measured by the eNPS. Employees working at organisations with no culture indicators selected as ‘best in class’ have an average eNPS of -68%. The presence of one culture indicator, however, improves that score to -33%. Two culture indicators improves the score even further to 0%, and the presence of all three culture indicators results in a positive eNPS of 38%, i.e. employees willing to promote their organisation as a great place to work outnumber detractors by a factor of 2.5 to 1.

When considering how culture influences engagement for different age groups, the results suggest that culture had the biggest impact on the engagement levels of Generation Xers, though the results for all age groups showed a positive impact. Once again, however, Baby Boomers appear to react somewhat differently. Although they too are positively influenced by ‘best in class’ culture items, no respondents in this age group believe that their organisation excels in all three culture items, and no change in engagement levels is recorded between persons whose organisations have either one or two culture items.

Source: Antilles Economics and Blueprint Creative (2017). The Employee View of the Employer Brand

What next?

For professionals tasked with improving the engagement levels of employees within their organisation, the results point to the need for a nuanced approach. In many cases, organisations will employ persons of all three age groups, and engagement boosting policies and activities will have to be tailored to address the varied needs of each age group. Employees within the millennial and Generation X age groups, for example, will be more interested in training and career development opportunities than their older counterparts. They will also be more negatively impacted by roles that do not appear to be along a career path (especially one of their choosing) and organisations with poor corporate cultures.

To ensure a thorough understanding of the state of employee engagement across generations, employee satisfaction surveys should collect age-related information to determine whether different populations have different perceptions. It should also be noted that engagement is only one measure of employee satisfaction; other useful measures include employee happiness and perceptions of skills utilisation and career development. Tracking various indicators by age would allow organisations to develop more effective interventions to improve engagement.

[1] Gallup (2016). State of the American Workplace 2016

[2] Antilles Economics and Blueprint Creative (2017). The Employee View of the Employer Brand

About the author(s)

Stacia Howard is the Managing Director of Antilles Economics.

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