Generational Differences in the Workplace: Fact or Fiction?

Posted on October 06, 2005
Posted By: Robert Cenek
 
The values of the average worker have changed significantly since the 1956 publication of William Whyte's "Organization Man." Unlike the 'organization man or woman,' the typical worker today is not willing to be subservient to the corporation in exchange for security and a sense of belongingness. Employees "work to live," and not "live to work." Other than the “young, urban professional movement” in the 80’s, this trend has been on a pretty predictable and steady trajectory for years. Discussing generational differences is prime cocktail party talk. There is both a certain amount of mystery, as well as a certain amount of sense making by being able to attribute, explain and categorize patterns of behavior in the workplace. Astute pop psychology merchants understand that, and a few have been very creative at reducing complex demographical and societal characteristics into simple nostrums and four quadrant boxes, and have packaged those to provide a nice steady income stream.

Dr. Morris Massey may have popularized the discussion of generational differences with his highly entertaining and at times comical videotapes that focused on the differences in values among workers. Dr. Massey, in a sometimes very blunt fashion, assigned core personal values to different age cohorts in the workforce. Many of his statements really resonated with training audiences, and his success produced a cottage industry of consultants, each claiming to have the latest and most accurate twist on generational differences in the workplace. Not all of the work done by some of these experts has necessarily been bad. Some of their work has helped interpersonally challenged leaders gain a better grip on the intricacies of workplace behavior. No one can deny that there are some differences among different age groups. However, strong evidence is surfacing that suggests that there are as many similarities as there are differences among workers, Jennifer Deal, who is affiliated with the highly esteemed leadership think tank, the Center for Creative Leadership, has undertaken some of the more compelling and insightful research. She surveyed approximately 3,400 workers according to their key values, interests and desires. Her survey respondents included solid samples from the baby boomers (early boomers born between 1946 and 1954 and late boomers born between 1955 and 1963) and Generation Xers born after 1964. There were fewer however in the pre-1945 age group, named by the researchers the "silent generation", and fewer still in the late Generation X group born between 1977 and 1982.

Dr. Deal's findings suggest that some of the conventional wisdom about generational differences is more myth than reality. Some of her key findings included:

  • Older and younger workers have many similar values, including valuing family, integrity, love and self-respect. She found that fame, affluence, authority, competition and advancement were least likely to rank in the top five, regardless of age;
  • Younger workers today change jobs no more frequently than they did 20 years ago;
  • There are no age-related differences in the number of hours worked by employees;
  • Older people were just as keen to undergo further training and to use computers as the youngest workers; and
  • Older and younger workers do not find it difficult to work together.
While there were many apparent similarities between generations, she admits to finding a few differences as well. For example, when asked if they saw themselves staying with their employer for more than three years, less than 40 per cent of the late Xers said yes, compared with almost 70 per cent of the early boomers – the most long-term-looking group in the sample. Fewer of the older generation were thinking this way presumably because some were looking at retirement in the short term. Comments made when asked what they wanted from employers often differed in nuance between adjoining generations but markedly between the oldest and the youngest. The silent generation, for example, tended to make comments along the following theme: “Give me interesting work to do, recognize my efforts and pay me fairly.” The late Xers, on the other hand, indicated a strong desire for advancement, with flexibility around work schedules, mentoring and merit pay for good work rather than extra pay for seniority.

Dr. Jennifer Deal’s research findings have been supported to some extent by similar work from Sirota Consulting, a global survey research firm. The firm recently published a book entitled “The Enthusiastic Employee: How Companies Profit by Giving Employees Want They Want.” The volume details the results of more than 30 years of survey research by this well-known firm – and debunks many prevailing myths about today’s workplace. One key theme in the book is that the vast majority of workers, regardless of their generational roots, want to be proud of the work that they do and their organization. Further, they yearn to be treated fairly, and value harmonious relationships with co-workers.

Conclusion
All ages in the workforce have similar needs that they yearn to satisfy. Broad social mores certainly change over time, but certain human drives clearly remain constant through the ages, including the need to be loved, appreciated, and respected. While leadership is much more than just doing ‘doing what comes naturally,” it seems as if we have a tendency to make the whole subject much more enigmatic and complicated than it needs to be.

 
 
Authored By:
Robert Cenek, founder of the Cenek Company, has been building strong leaders and organizations since 1979. Robert has worked in such premier Fortune 500 companies as General Mills and Bristol-Myers. At General Mills, where he was a member of team that led the nationally recognized development of high performance work systems in the company’s manufacturing facilities. At Bristol-Myers, he created the management development function for the corporate staff, and was
 

Other Posts by: Robert Cenek

Boomers to Delay Retirement - February 17, 2005
Getting Cozy with the Customer - September 16, 2004

Related Posts

Time Goes By By Fred Kesinger
 
 

Add your comments:

Please log in to leave a comment!
back to top

Receive Energy Central eNews & Updates












 

A State of the Utilities Industry Study - What Keeps You Awake at Night?

Thursday Sep 4, 2014 - 12:00 PM Eastern - Virtual Event

Faced with everything from unpredictable weather to changing renewable energy portfolios to volatile fuel prices, utilities can only be certain about one thing: uncertainty. Energy Central's Sierra Energy Group surveyed 70 utilities professionals in IT, finance, trading and risk management more...

Valuing the Costs and Benefits of Solar

Tuesday Sep 9, 2014 - 12:00 PM Eastern - Virtual Event

Distributed solar photovoltaic (PV) continues to grow in the United States. While solar PV is predominately installed in California, the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Colorado, Arizona and Hawaii, how to value its contribution and costs is being discussed in legislative and regulatory more...

Revenue Assurance; a boring topic unless it's your revenue

Wednesday Sep 17, 2014 - 12:00 PM Eastern - Virtual Event

Did you get a paycheck recently? Did you look over your paycheck to make sure you got paid for the work you provided? Would you be concerned if your paycheck was 10, 15, or 20% less than you expected? That's more...

Data-to-Value Realized: AMI/OMS Integration

Thursday Sep 18, 2014 - 12:00 PM Eastern - Virtual Event

The explosion of data in utilities has at times seemed to have created more problems that it has solved. One refrain from utility executives is often around the quest for more value creation from their investments in smart grid, smart more...

Utility Analytics, Challenges & Solutions Webcast Series - Session One

Monday Sep 22, 2014 - 12:00 PM Eastern - Virtual Event

The utility analytics marketplace is evolving so fast that it is hard to keep up with new technologies and processes that are transforming how utilities accomplish their mission. This webcast series provides attendees with an opportunity to see and hear more...

2014 Mobile Utility Week

Monday Sep 15, 2014 - Tuesday Sep 16, 2014 - Phoenix, AZ

This is a must-attend event for utilities professionals who are responsible for creating and implementing their organization's mobile strategy. Walk away with the knowledge and resources required to implement effective mobile solutions within the areas of customer engagement mobility and more...

CounterIntel Conference and Training - Park City, Utah

Tuesday Sep 16, 2014 - Thursday Sep 18, 2014 - Park City, UT - USA

Critical Intelligence will host our first CounterIntel Conference and Training in Park City, Utah, September 16-18, 2014. Join industry peers, industrial control system owners/operators and intelligence experts to discuss situational awareness and intelligence. Learn how leading organizations are incorporating intelligence more...

26th Annual Independent Energy Human Resources Association (IEHRA) Conference

Wednesday Sep 24, 2014 - Friday Sep 26, 2014 - San Diego, California - United States

 more...

8th Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange

Wednesday Sep 24, 2014 - Friday Sep 26, 2014 - Aspen, Colorado - USA

Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange (formerly Colorado Utility Efficiency Exchange) facilitates a networking and professional development conference for staff representatives of energy and water utilities serving Colorado and neighboring states who are responsible for developing and implementing customer programs related more...

FREE POSTINGS!

Get your event listing in front of more than 100,000 industry professionals by posting on EnergyCentral's Event Center.



Sponsored Content