This annotated collection of recent research on multiple generations sharing the workforce captures debates among scholars including whether comparing and contrasting workplace generations yields meaningful information about people and work.
Title: Working Across Generations: Defining the Future of Nonprofit Leadership
In this book, the authors present opportunities and challenges involved in working with leadership transition and generational shifts in the nonprofit sector. They provide findings of their and other scholars’ research on leadership generational changes and provide contexts to these changes and differences. By investigating leadership transitions on individual, organizational and sectoral levels, they suggest how these transitions can be healthy, supportive and successful, as well as offer new frameworks for thinking about the changes. The book shares “how-to” tips and tools for organizations looking to adapt as they seek to engage both long-term leaders and young talent. The authors also offer advice on effective communication tools across generations and recommendations for future research and practice.
Title: Actual Versus Perceived Generational Differences at Work: An Empirical Examination
The authors of this study compared the differences in perceptions and actual value of differences among workers of different generations. In this study of multigenerational workers at a single organization (263 respondents of three generations—Boomers, Generations X and Y), the finding show that while workers of different generations experienced differences in work-related issues and preferences (e.g., technological means of communication, value of professionalism, workplace culture, etc.), their perception of differences in beliefs and values outnumbered actual generational differences. Each group held stereotypic views about each other: “Older” workers were perceived as inflexible, “younger” workers were seen as irresponsible, and the workers between them were misunderstood by both older and younger workers. The researchers also found that female respondents rated teamwork higher than their male counterparts. The authors conclude the study with implications for workplace, limitations of their findings and directions for future research.
Title: Generational Perspectives in the Workplace: Interpreting the Discourses That Constitute Women’s Struggle to Balance Work and Life
In this qualitative study of multigenerational women workers, researchers explored how professional women navigated through work-life conflicts through focus group discussions. The authors started their exploration with the idea that the workplace is a “gendered construction,” that is, workplace culture, norms and policies are embedded within structures that privilege male workers. Through focus group sessions, the researchers found that 15 research participants of different generations did not experience work-life conflicts in the same way and portrayed how concepts of “paying one’s dues” and giving the organization “face-time” differed generationally among female professionals. Younger generation workers were perceived as entitled and unwilling to pay their dues by older generations, and older generation workers were perceived as rigid and overly focused on face-time by younger generations. The authors also found that younger generations of workers challenged the hegemonic and gendered discourses of paying one’s dues and face-time and rejected the notion of being perceived as “entitled.”
Title: Generational Differences in the Workplace: A Review of the Evidence and Directions for Future Research
In this review of research article, the authors examined the theoretical basis for the concept of generational differences and reviewed empirical studies on various aspects of work-related values and beliefs. Overall, research on various dimensions of work-related issues seem to support some generational differences in workers’ personalities, work values and attitudes, preferred leadership and teamwork styles, and career trajectories. Successive generations tend to be more self-centered and agentic, but also are more prone to neuroticism, depression and anxiety compared to other cohorts. The authors contest popular ideas of distinct, clearly identifiable generational cohorts and recommend that researchers take up more nuanced perspectives to reflect fluid generational identities that are influenced by social forces. The article summarizes recommendations for advancing research from descriptive studies to more theory-based ones and expanding the use of qualitative research method.
Title: A Scholarly Investigation of Generational Workforce Differences: Debunking the Myths
In this review of research, the authors find limited empirical evidence to support popular notions regarding generational differences in perceptions, values, interests, etc. related to work. Comparing literature from the popular media and peer-reviewed scholarly sources, they found that studies that support generational differences varied in terms of scientific rigor, mixed in terms of their findings and limited in their applicability to most workplaces. The review found little or no support for generational differences regarding career management, loyalty to organization, values and work ethic, motivation, etc. They conclude that there appear to be more similarities than differences across generations of workers, and that the current status of empirical research does not support the popular notion of workplace crises stemming from generational conflicts. The authors speculate that other factors—e.g., age, cohort, career and life stages, perceptions of differences, and shifts in demographics of the workforce—may account for more differences than a so-called generational divide.
Title: Generational Differences in Work Values: Leisure and Extrinsic Values Increasing, Social and Intrinsic Values Decreasing
Using a nationally representative sample (N=16,507), the authors found some differences in what workers of different generations—Boomer, Generations X and Y—value in relation to work. The value of leisure increased with successive generations. Generation X placed higher value on extrinsics—money and status—than other generations. Despite the stereotype of Generation Y workers having a greater preference for meaningful and altruistic work (e.g., helping, societally worthy causes), the authors did not find that to be more true than for other generations. Compared to Boomers, Generation Y also rated low on social values (e.g., making friends) and intrinsic values (e.g., personally meaningful, interesting job). The article concludes with a summary of potential implications of their findings for recruitment and management practice.
Title: Generational Differences in Work Values: A Review of Theory and Evidence
The authors offer a critical perspective on the concept of generational differences. They review a body of empirical research on generational differences in work values, and conclude that the evidence on generational differences is, at best, mixed. The authors found many studies to be methodologically problematic, reporting evidence for no or contradictory generational differences. They contest that many studies start with an a priori assumption that generational differences exist, and found it problematic that many studies are cross-sectional surveys, which make it difficult to differentiate the impact of factors other than generation (e.g., age, period and environment) on these observed generational differences. For example, a generation of workers may ascribe to the value of the Protestant Work Ethic; this may be due to generational factors or other factors such as age, career and life stages and environment. The authors also assert that many studies overlook impacts of differences in gender, race/ethnicity, education and regions—local and national. They conclude with comments and questions on the value of segmenting workers by generations and suggestions for future research.
Title: The Multi-Generational Workforce: Workplace Flexibility and Engagement
In this study of employees of different generations (N=183,454, representing 22 companies), researchers examined the relationships between age, workplace flexibility and workers’ engagement with work. Their central hypotheses were: 1) Older worker workers will be equally as engaged in work as younger workers; 2) Workers who report having access to work flexibility that meets their needs will be more engaged than those who do not; 3) Older workers who report that they have access to the work flexibility they need will be more engaged than younger workers who have access to equivalent flexibility. Both older workers and those with flexible work option were found to be more engaged. The authors also found that while flexibility was positively associated with work engagement across all generations, it was particularly significant for workers who were 45 years old or older. Findings are particularly notable because the authors assert that the traditional, “lock-step” career trajectory model is outdated for the changing workforce and their needs; people of the industrialized nations live and work longer, and their career paths are varied. The results of the study indicate that increasing workplace flexibility can be used to enhance workers’ engagement, especially for older workers. The authors conclude the article with implications for research and workplace practices.
Title: Millennials’ (Lack of) Attitude Problem: An Empirical Examination of Generational Effects on Work Attitudes
The article compares Millennials’ work-related attitudes (e.g., job satisfaction, job security and willingness to quit) with that of prior generations. In this national-level survey (N=115,044), the authors found small but distinguishable differences in work attitudes among different generations of workers, after controlling for age and period/environmental factors. Millennials reported higher levels of job satisfaction, job security, and career development, compared to Boomers and Generation Xers. In addition, Millennials reported similar levels of satisfaction in terms of pay and benefits and turnover intensions with other generations. The authors conclude that although some generational differences seem to exist, it is unclear whether there is a need for creating new policies and programs on the practice level.
Title: Generational Differences in Work-Related Attitudes: A Meta-Analysis
In this article, the authors meta-analyzed studies that examined three aspects of work-related attitudes—job satisfaction, organizational commitment and intent to stay/quit—among different generations of workers. In their review of 20 published and unpublished empirical studies, the authors found that generational differences on work attitudes were small or minimal. Many studies have conceptual, methodological and definitional problems; the authors also remark that many studies are done without a solid theoretical foundation and that longitudinal studies are rare. They concluded that even when those moderate differences were detected, they were most likely to be attributable to factors other than generations—such as age, maturation and general life course factors. The authors conclude the paper by questioning the utility of creating new programs or interventions to address generational differences in the workplace and offering directions for future research.
Title: Leading a Multigenerational Workforce: Strategies for Attracting and Retaining Millennials
In this commentary article, the authors offer a quick review on different generations and types of interventions designed to minimize workplace generational conflicts—particularly within the healthcare setting and with the millennial workers in mind. After brief descriptions of four generations (Traditionalist, Baby Boomers, Gen X and Millennial), the authors assert that generational conflicts in the workplace may lead to zero-sum games, and in order to overcome this stalemate, workplaces need to create programs that address the needs of different generations. They recommend leaders to be emotionally intelligent and attune to different generations’ learning and work-style needs—e.g., flexible work schedule, telecommuting, job sharing, flexible dress codes, etc. Potential negative consequences—particularly problematic with the millennals, according to the authors—for failing to be generationally sensitive is the problem of “retention deficit disorder” which may lead to high turnover rates of millennial workers.
Title: Generational Preferences for Work Environment Fit: Effects on Employee Outcomes
In this survey study of accountants in a Western state (N=234), the authors explored which aspects of workplace qualities that impact different generations’ of employees and their job satisfaction and turnover rates. Stating that there has not been substantial evidence in terms of differences in workplace preferences between Gen X and Y, the authors combined these two generations and compared them to Boomers. Their key hypotheses were: 1) The “fit” between work environment and goals would have more significant impact on job satisfaction and intention to leave among Generations X and Y than Boomers; 2) Social interactions and relationships with cohorts would have more impact on job satisfaction and intention to leave among Boomers than Generations X and Y; and 3) Boomers will report lower levels of job satisfaction than Generation X and Y. Study results indicated that the fit between goal and work environment was a significant factor for job satisfaction and intention to stay for Generations X and Y, but not for Boomers. Social interactions and relationship fit was significant for job satisfaction, but not intention to stay, for Boomers; social relationship fit did not impact Generations X and Y. Also, they found that there was no significant difference in job satisfaction among different generations.