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Older workers trump "Generation Y"

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New research findings from the sixth “Vodafone UK Working Nation report”, say that older people are the happiest and most motivated workers in Britain, with satisfaction levels soaring above those in their twenties, thirties and early forties. 

The “Vodafone UK Working Nation report”, based on findings from a survey of 3,800 people and over 20 hours of inter-generational focus groups will give hope for the future to people in their early thirties who, according to the survey, are suffering a severe bout of mid-career depression. When asked about ‘negative feelings’ regarding work, the 31-35 year old age bracket topped the poll in every category, including ‘feeling undervalued’ (59%), being ‘unfulfilled’ (49%) and being ‘de-motivated’ (43%).  

Crucially, the report also comes with a stark warning for the characteristically optimistic ‘Generation Y’ (those born after 1980) – discussions in the qualitative phase of the research suggested that one of the biggest issues facing British business over the next ten years could be the ‘inevitable’ disillusionment that will hit these youngest members of the workforce as they start to reach their thirties. 

Sonia Abrahams, senior research consultant at Opinion Leader, one of the companies that carried out the research, commented: “The common prediction associated with Generation Y is that it is using developments in technology and new forms of communication to change working cultures forever, meaning we will see companies working in new ways and offering employees new flexibility in how they choose to define their working day. 

The Vodafone UK Working Nation series of reports, now in its fifth year, is a major ongoing study created and conceived by Vodafone UK that chronicles the attitudes and trends that shape the United Kingdom at work. This volume, entitled ‘The Nature of Work’, explores the true meaning of work in 2008 from the perspective of all different ages, including teenagers about to enter work as well as recent retirees. 

Key research findings:

The research confirmed that young people want a working world that enables the opportunity for options, variety and change – a psychological contract with the employer written purely in their own terms.


  • Nearly half (45%) of the under thirties believe that they will be doing something entirely different for a different organisation within the next five years (compared to 25% of the sample as a whole)
  • More 26-30 year olds (33%) ‘strongly agree’ that they are motivated by money above all else than any other group
  • 31% of 16-20 year-olds believe technology will change the way they work entirely (compared to 18% of the sample as a whole).

All measurable indicators of contentment & achievement in the report suffer a considerable drop amongst those in their early thirties, little more than a decade after many have started their careers.  

  • Thirty-somethings feel more trapped (39%), dissatisfied (44%) and more without control (36%) than any other age cohort surveyed
  • This generation also contains the highest number of people who feel undervalued (59%), unfulfilled (49%) and de-motivated (43%)
  • Only 15% of 31-35 year olds will happily work all the hours possible to further their career compared to 31%-32% of 16-25 year olds and 22% of 26-30 year olds.

Findings from the oldest cohorts indicate a far more positive outlook, not just for those that are already in their forties, fifties and sixties, but those about to enter this age group from their thirties. Older participants reported a “second burst” of working life once they got through the pressures of the family life-stage, describing themselves as becoming more relaxed and satisfied in their work. 

  • 53% of those working past retirement age say they go to work to express a skill, talent or passion, compared to 34% of the nation as a whole
  • 97% of those working beyond 65 feel ‘enabled’ in their work, compared to just 61% of 31-35 year olds
  • Seven out of ten 50+ workers say they are fulfilled, yet just half of 31-25 year olds say the same.

Mark Bond, director of Enterprise, Vodafone UK, commented: “A lot of time and money has been spent by companies in recent years in understanding the needs of employees coming into the workforce in their late teens and twenties and also of the people moving towards the end of their career. This report demonstrates clearly that more should also be done to empathise with and understand those in the middle of careers – not only for their own sake, but for the benefit of the companies that they work for. These people are, after all, the leaders of tomorrow.”

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