Sara Diane Smith and Professor Quinn Galbraith, HBLL Human Resources
The purpose of this project was to explore generational differences in the library workplace through a literature review, through studying results from national workplace surveys, and through analyzing the results of past surveys given to student employees at the Harold B. Lee Library. As part of this project, my mentor and I created a new survey asking about work preferences and generational differences to both current student employees and their supervisors. We compared students’ responses to the supervisors’, and also to past Lee Library surveys, to national surveys, and to other studies and publications about Millennials. Our goal was to create a publishable paper that would help librarians better supervise students and younger employees. In doing so, we learned important tips to help library supervisors better recruit, retain, motivate, and communicate with younger employees.
Method and Results
In the first part of 2010, we read articles and books about the Millennial generation, and we started to design the survey. In preparation for creating the survey, I conducted a focus group of library student employees to get ideas for survey questions and to discuss ideas that I had read in the literature. We administered the survey in early April 2010 and spent a month or so analyzing our results and comparing them to trends in the literature and in other studies. In May 2010, my mentor and I presented the results of our study at the Utah Library Association conference in St. George, Utah. Over the summer I turned our presentation into an academic paper by incorporating a literature review. In the beginning of Fall semester, I submitted the paper to the Journal of Academic Librarianship, and it was accepted for publication. In November, my mentor and I gave another presentation based on this study, this time as a training in generational differences in the workplace for Lee Library supervisors of student employees.
Today’s libraries are becoming increasingly multigenerational workplaces. Most academic librarians work side-by-side with Millennials; students patrons and employees are members of this generation. As more Millennials enter the workforce, libraries anticipate hiring and working with younger professionals. Millennials, both as young professionals and as library student employees, are supervised primarily by Baby Boomers and some Gen Xers. Millennials are different; they have expectations and values that differ from those of their supervisors. Working with younger staff and student employees can be a challenge for library supervisors.
In recruiting and retaining Millennials, many library supervisors do not believe they can offer competitive pay or pay raises. But exactly how motivating is pay to the Millennial generation? Our survey results suggest that pay is certainly an important factor—but it is only one of many factors that Millennials value in a job, and, in many cases, it is not the most important. Students also value flexibility, meaningful work, and growth opportunities. For example, students were asked to pick the top two factors that motivate them to stay at their library jobs. The top choice (selected by 65 percent) was flexibility. This choice was followed by proximity (56 percent), enjoyable work (30 percent), and work environment (30 percent). Only 14 percent selected pay. Students were also asked what they look for in a potential job, and again were asked to select two options. Fifty-six percent selected meaningful work, 44 percent selected pay, and 30 percent selected growth opportunities. A similar question asked students what motivates them to work hard. While not referring directly to recruitment or retention, this question offers some insight into what the Millennial Generational values. The top choice for this question was personal satisfaction (58 percent), followed by pay (46 percent) and meaningful work (28 percent). Interestingly, when supervisors were asked to predict the student responses to this question, the top choice was pay (45 percent).
If library supervisors have no control over pay, then in order to recruit, retain, and even motivate Millennial employees, they should instead focus on what they can control. Supervisors have a lot more influence than they realize: Thirty-nine percent of our students said that their supervisor is one of the top two factors keeping them at their jobs—but only 9 percent of supervisors predicted that their student employees would select this response. The influence of the supervisor extends beyond pay and can affect employee performance and satisfaction.
Supervisors were asked whether older workers (Gen Xers or Baby Boomers) or younger workers (Millennials) tend to have better work ethics, and the majority (88 percent) selected older workers. And it seems that Millennials agree: when student employees were asked the same question, the majority (90 percent) also selected older workers. National surveys also show that Millennials do not list work ethic as a defining generational trait. But this should not suggest that Gen Yers do not work hard—it just means work ethic is not as important as other generational values. Millennials are not necessarily motivated by work ethic, but along with flexibility and growth opportunities as previously discussed, by regular feedback. Forty-six percent of Lee Library student employees said they want formal feedback monthly, and 26 percent want it weekly (see figure 9). Results from national studies even more clearly show that Millennials crave regular feedback from employers.
My study of generational differences in the library workplace contains many more insights and tips for to help library supervisors work with Millennials that cannot fit here. I enjoyed conducting the research for this study because I learned more about my own generation and about challenges to anticipate in the workforce and how to overcome them. My study, and having published in a library journal, will help me as I myself begin a future career in library science.