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Build a Perfect Boss: Here’s What Every Generation Wants in a Manager

What makes a great boss? PayScale's latest report, Gen Y on the Job, asked respondents to rate various managerial characteristics, including the ability to motivate, setting clear directions, organization, friendliness, ambition, and tendency to keep it professional. We learned that regardless of generation, workers want -- and perhaps more significantly, don't want -- similar things from their bosses.

What makes a great boss? PayScale’s latest report, Gen Y on the Job, asked respondents to rate various managerial characteristics, including the ability to motivate, setting clear directions, organization, friendliness, ambition, and tendency to keep it professional. We learned that regardless of generation, workers want — and perhaps more significantly, don’t want — similar things from their bosses.

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Here’s the breakdown of the top five desired characteristics, according to workers’ generation:

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Gen Y:

Motivating: 90 percent

Sets Clear Directions and Expectations: 79 percent

Provides Opportunities for Learning and Development: 75 percent

Organized: 73 percent

Friendly/Inviting: 72 percent

Gen X:

Motivating: 88 percent

Sets Clear Directions and Expectations: 79 percent

Provides Opportunities for Learning and Development: 76 percent

Organized: 72 percent

Straightforward: 70 percent

Baby Boomers:

Motivating: 86 percent

Sets Clear Directions and Expectations: 80 percent

Provides Opportunities for Learning and Development: 78 percent

Organized: 72 percent

Straightforward: 70 percent

In other words, respondents valued similar things — motivation, clear direction, learning opportunities, and organization — with one small exception. Millennials were more likely to value friendliness than other generations. Whether that’s because of a generational shift in attitudes toward boss/employee relationships or a function of the fact that the youngest generation of workers wants a manager who will help them feel secure at the beginning of their careers is up for debate.

The generations were similarly united in their disinterest in certain traits. Only 9 percent of Millennials wanted a boss who would wait for them to approach with questions, compared to 7 percent of Gen Xers and 8 percent of Baby Boomers. No generation wanted their boss to keep it strictly professional, either: only 15 percent of Gen Y, 16 percent of Gen X, and 17 percent of Baby Boomers chose this as an important quality.

Other bottom-ranking traits included providing a lot of freedom, checking in with workers frequently, and being ambitious, although each of these scored in the high 20 percent to low 40 percent range — meaning, there are folks out there who want a boss who’s gunning for a promotion, but it’s not as popular a choice as a boss that inspires workers to do their best.

Bottom line: a good boss looks different for every person and industry, but the best probably have a few things in common — chief among them, the willingness and talent to support their reports’ careers, and the ability to explain what they’re looking for, and then be honest about the results.

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What have your favorite bosses had in common with one another? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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