Generational Perspectives on Sacrifice

An Understanding of Work Ethic and Motivation

When we talk about sacrifice, we are often trying to uncover different perspectives about work ethic and motivation. Some of the most common questions from leaders today are:

  • Why doesn’t what motivated me, motivate them?
  • Why aren’t they willing to put in the same hours as me?
  • Why aren’t they out hunting for business the way I did?
  • Why aren’t they hustling the way I did?
  • What won’t they sacrifice they way I sacrificed?

Below are trends that have created a different set of values in the workforce, particularly related to sacrifice.


We’re living longer and therefore we need to keep our minds and bodies healthier longer. Stress, lack of exercise and poor nutrition have reeked havoc on our healthcare system.

  • 1 in 5 Baby Boomers has diabetes
  • 40% of Baby Boomers are obese
  • More than 50% of Baby Boomers take prescription medication for hypertension

(Source: Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s 38th Annual Report on Nation’s Health)

Younger generations have been labeled “slackers” for wanting to do yoga during lunch, but the reality is that longevity scares people and our current health crisis warrants those fears. Next generation employees are not willing to sacrifice their health. Their health is more important than their job.

The good news about this for organizations is that good physical health has been linked to better focus, higher levels of emotional control and better decision making.


Work smarter, not longer. This adage became the mantra of the technical revolution. Time is no longer the predictor of productivity. What used to take 40 hours a week can now take 20 with the help of  leveraged technology.

  • The Employee Persona Experiment:

One of the consulting firms I was working with built employee personas and showed them to leaders in different age brackets. One of the personas was an employee who was the first one in, the last one out and ate lunch in front of his/her computer everyday. Many of the senior leaders viewed that persona favorably. They called this  persona “the work horse.” Many of the younger leaders viewed this persona negatively. A common  response was “how slow does this person work if they need to come in early and stay late every single day?” They called this persona “inefficient.”

The implication here is that time at the office is no longer necessarily equated to productivity. New ways of measuring productivity are in beta trials in companies all over the world. Leaving at 5 doesn’t necessarily mean that an employee is lazy or careless. In fact, in may mean this employee has stellar time management skills and tech proficiency. 


Throughout much of the post-industrial economy, “breadwinning” was the sole responsibility of one person. That person was the man. Now, roles are all over the board. Men are more present on the home front and women are major financial contributors to the household.

  • 40% of households are headed up by female breadwinners (Pew Research Center, Social & Demographic Trends 2016)
  • 64% of US marriages with children under 18, both parent’s work (Pew Research Center, Social & Demographic Trends 2016)
  • The US divorce rate is currently the lowest it has been since 1970 (US Census Bureau)

The recent rise of egalitarian marriages have changed perceptions of work ethic, motivation and sacrifice. First, many men can no longer sacrifice family time for work time in a way that was acceptable in the past. If the woman is now contributing financially, there is a higher expectation that they man will contribute at home. Therefore, staying late may not be an option on car pool day. Second, the burden of financial pressure is now shared. In previous generations, typically the man had to make quite a large sum of money on his own in order to keep his family afloat. For some, that was all the motivation needed. Now, when the burden is shared, some men may not feel the pressure (and motivation) to make such a large sum of money.

One implication is that employees are not willing to sacrifice family relationships for higher salaries. Providing meaning, purpose and flexibility are more powerful ways to gain discretionary effort from employees.