Careers and Workforce

How Millennials Working in Food Differ from Baby Boomers

Food companies understand they must find, engage and retain millennials for their work forces if their businesses are to be sustained.

By Kevin T. Higgins, Managing Editor

Much has been written about young workers of the millennial generation, not all of it flattering. The unkindest cut may have come on a Time magazine cover, which labeled young people "lazy, entitled narcissists."

Regardless of that burn and others, food companies understand they must find, engage and retain millennials for their work forces if their businesses are to be sustained. Some of millennials’ distinctions are stage-of-life related, others reflect the technological age in which they grew up. To understand how generations differ in their desires and expectations from food-industry employment, a deep dive into Food Processing 2015 Salary and Job Satisfaction Survey provides some insight.

Survey respondents are asked to rate their job satisfaction from “very satisfied” (5) to “very dissatisfied” (1). Based on a five-point scale, the survey’s overall satisfaction was 3.56. Drilling down, millennials (defined here as 39 and younger) gave their jobs a marginally higher score of 3.58, while baby boomers (50 and older) were the most satisfied group at 3.89.

Some significant differences crop up in the factors that make a job appealing. Survey participants were presented with seven factors and asked which was most important in providing a strong sense of job satisfaction. Scores for salary & benefits, a safe work environment and appreciation were virtually the same for boomers and millennials, but significant differences crop up with other variables. Given their career stage, millennials’ satisfaction was much more closely tied to an opportunity for advancement. One fourth of millennials rated advancement opportunities as the most important factor, triple the ratio for boomers.

On the other hand, more than one third of boomers indicated challenging work is most important, compared to one in five millennials. Job security is more closely tied to satisfaction among boomers by ratio of two to one.

Although relatively few respondents rated low-stress environment as most important, millennials placed significantly more importance on it as a satisfaction factor.

An open-ended question asked what job benefits they would like their employers to offer. Two thirds of millennials had suggestions, while slightly more than half of boomers weighed in. For purposes of analysis, their feedback was placed into seven categories, such as transportation assistance (company car, public transit subsidy, etc.) quality of work (flex time, time off, maternity/paternity leave, etc.) and financial (bonuses, higher salaries, profit sharing, stock options, etc.).

Given their high loads of student debt, it’s not surprising that tuition reimbursement and other assistance ranked high among millennials, with more than one in eight of the respondents offering benefit suggestions mentioning it. Given boomers’ late career stage, tuition was mentioned the least, though it was important to some.

Health care is a bigger issue for the old than the young, and boomers were 2 ½ times more likely to mention insurance for health care, vision or dental and sick days than the millennials. Young professionals expressed twice as much interest in fitness centers, health club memberships and similar fringe benefits. Somewhat surprisingly, fitness benefits rated more mentions than tuition assistance among the young.

Some telling differences crop up in how respondents characterized their relationship with a supervisor or direct report and how that impacted their satisfaction score. Participants were presented with six relationship descriptions, four of which can be regarded as positive (collaborative, opportunities for advancement and career development, presented new challenges) and two negative (tense and command & control).

Millennials may be more tolerant of the boss from hell than the AARP crowd is. Baby boomers who described their relationships in strained terms had an average satisfaction score of 2.27, while those selecting multiple positive attributes had a 4.05 job-satisfaction score. The spread among millennials was much narrower: those with a sour relationship averaged 2.89, while those with multiple positives had a 3.85 score.

“I’m not treated with the respect I’ve earned,” complained a 20-something female. “Inconsistent messaging from leadership team,” groused a young engineer who would like better cafeteria meal options and an on-site health club, along with better communication from management.

Anecdotally, millennials take a more serious approach, at least when it comes to survey questionnaires. Across the board, their feedback on benefits they’d like to see was straightforward. Boomers, on the other hand, sometimes diverted into the whimsical, as illustrated by the handful whose benefit wish list was, “Anything.”

Job Satisfaction Boomers