The Economy and Worker Preferences | Columbia U.

Workforce Trends

The ability to understand worker preferences and their impact on attraction, engagement, and retention has been a topic of interest for quite some time. This interest seems to peak during times of crisis, like the coronavirus pandemic, in which worker preferences are shaped and altered. A new study, “Macroeconomic Conditions When Young Shape Job Preferences for Life,” suggests a need for employers to change how they go about attracting and retaining the generation coming of age in this challenging job market. And while prior research has shown that employees rank a sense of meaning or purpose ahead of compensation when asked what they value most from an employer, the study suggests that the opposite will be true for those coming of age now. Said differently, compensation will be prioritized ahead of purpose in evaluating job opportunities for years to come. Behind this thinking is that recessions create cohorts of workers who give higher priority to income, whereas booms make cohorts care more about job meaning. Given this finding, this study also challenges the usefulness of conventional generational groupings such as Gen Z, Gen X, and Millennials in understanding differences in attitudes. The authors posit that these categorizations are too broad to be meaningful since they include those who came of age (18-25 years old) in various economic climates. Instead, individuals’ life preferences are shown to be strongly related to the economic environment in which they came of age. This research provides useful insights for how employers might conduct employee preference research in the future and interpret results. For those who are interested in the academic research paper, you can find it here. 

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