A 3. Generation X 4. Generation Y

A generation can be defined as an identifiable group that shares common life events at critical developmental stages (Kupperschmidt 2000, cited in Parry and Urwin 2011). As outlined by Parry and Urwin (2011), there are 4 generations that exist in the workplace. However, it must be noted that the research varies in relation to how many generations actually exist in the work environment. The evidence is also quite mixed pertaining to the flaws and dangerous of such categorisation. Wiedmer (2015) proposes that there are actually five generations in the work environment. These are:
1. Veterans
2. Baby Boomers
3. Generation X
4. Generation Y
5. Generation Z
According to Becton et al (2014), no specific age range exists for each cohort and so it remains difficult to compare generational differences. The issue of generational differences has been unearthed since the 1950’s. Holbrook and Schindler (1994) found that significant life events in the early years of a person’s life contribute to their future attitudes and behaviours later in life. This is to suggest that different generations have different values, which I will explore in the main body of this essay. Categorising people has always taken place. Take for example television ads aimed at consumers in their 30’s. These ads are likely to feature music from the late 1970’s, such as Bruce Springsteen and Elton John (Holbrook and Schindler 1994). Before exploring the flaws and dangers of categorising generations, it is necessary to explore the different generations that exist in the work environment.
The ‘Veteran’ generation, also referred to as ‘Traditionalists’ (Rampton 2017) or the ‘Silent Generation’ (Parry and Urwin 2011) were born between the 1920’s and early 1940’s. These individuals tend to be extremely loyal and enjoy being respected for such faith (Wiedmer 2015). Since these individuals were born over 80 years ago, they are starting to disappear but still impressively make up around 3% of the workforce (Rampton 2017). Baby Boomers were conceived between 1943 and the mid 60’s. As expressed by Becton et al (2014), this generation grew from the persistently high birth rates in America at that time. Boomers tend to be people in their late careers and as such are in positions of authority. This generation, as indicated by Rampton (2017), are goal orientated and like to be acknowledged for their expertise. Without exploring empirical and cross sectional studies, it is clear to see that categorising these individuals could present problems in the workplace. Generation X are often defined by their life experiences such as economic uncertainty and the recession (Becton et al 2014). For example, this generation saw their parents being made redundant in the 1980’s and as such led them to search for temporary work (Parry and Urwin 2011). This generation represents the first one from the preceding two to apparently value opportunities to grow and develop as a person. As research suggests, they tend to like to work independently with minimal supervision (Rampton 2017; Wiedmer 2015). Generation Y, also known as Millennials (Rampton 2017; Becton et al 2014), are referred to as people who like to collaborate with others in the work environment. They tend to like feedback from managers (Gibson 2015, cited in Wiedmer 2015) and are sometimes referred to as the “tech-savvy generation” (Rampton 2017). Eisner (2005) describes how these individuals measure their own success from the meaningfulness of their work. Finally, Generation Z, the emerging generation, many of whom fill many classrooms and lecture theatres today (Wiedmer 2015). Such individuals are tech savvy and highly digitized with social media skills. These individuals need to be challenged with project-based, active learning opportunities (Wiedmer 2015). All of the above research suggests these generations have different values, so what does this mean for the workplace?
Dose (1997) outlines work values as evaluative standards in the work environment. Research carried out by Rhodes (1983) highlights that it is impossible to make comparisons between generational differences and age effects. The results of her studies concluded that most values were actually consistent with a life-cycle process. The research suggests that employee’s age may be able to explain their changes in attitudes and work behaviour over time (Rhodes 1983). Spector et al (2008) further re-enforces this point that most of the generalisation literature is based on flaws that we cannot rely on. Howe and Strauss (2000) believe that Gen Y will be the most successful of generations, being more numerous and more affluent. Twenge (2006, cited in Parry and Urwin 2011) criticises this, outlining how Generation Y are working harder to get less. In fact, most young American people will struggle to buy a home and afford the best colleges. The literature is yet again flawed by the stereotyping of individuals which can have detrimental consequences in the work environment (Knight 2014). As stated above, individuals values change over the course of their life, consistent with the age effect. Parry and Urwin (2011) suggest that with individuals maintaining certain values over a period of time, employers are less likely to focus on these if they are driving a short-term strategy. This has implications for the motivations of these people and the meaningfulness of their work. Spector et al (2008) found that TV programmes feature generational differences such as the impact of Baby Boomers pending retirement on younger generations. There is not enough literature to suggest that these differences take weight in the workplace. When employer’s start to attribute people to a particular generation, not only do they pave the way for discrimination (Grensing-Pophal 2013), they also dismiss employees valid skills and abilities (Chakraverty 2017).
Although generations are likely to have certain habits, stereotyping these can result in quite negative outcomes (Grensing-Pophal 2013). Assuming that individuals over 40 won’t be competent with technology is both flawed and dangerous. The focusing on nurturing and developing both Gen X and Y leaves Baby Boomers with low self-worth (Grensing-Pophal 2013). Cennamo and Gardner (2008) highlight the different values of generations. Through their study of 504 Auckland employees, generational differences seem to hold their own. Where there was a lack of connection between individual and organisational values, there was decreased satisfaction with increased turnover. However, this study was based on cross-sectional data, limiting its value (Cennamo and Gardner 2008). As outlined by the Cranfield School of Management (2012), more longitudinal studies are required to assess values, attitudes and behaviours over time. Jurkiewicz and Brown 1998 (cited in Parry and Urwin 2011), found that there were no significant differences in employee’s beliefs inside the workplace. Each individual wanted to progress in terms of income and responsibility within their organisations. The research shows categorising individuals is much more flawed than it is reliable.
Finally, relying on this literature damages the workforce. As outlined by Chakraverty (2017), generalisation leads to employees feeling alienated and having to work harder to make their voices heard. A recent study shows that 25% of British retirees decide to re-join the workforce. Employers label these as a certain “type”, dismissing skills and experience that they have gained through the years (Chakraverty 2017). Knight (2014) outlines that it is more common for a younger person to be managing an older person nowadays. However, there is no evidence to suggest that 35 year old managers today differ from managers 35 years ago. Knight (2014) suggests a way of relieving this generalisation tension is to capitalise on the differences that each individual possesses. Reciprocal mentoring is a means of relieving tensions. The CHRO of MasterCard, Ron Garrow is a prime example of this. He learned through a younger mentor that employees prefer to purchase online. I find it quite surprising that the CHRO of a global company was not aware of the purchasing means of consumers. This highlights the absolute dangers of categorizing individuals. It must also be noted that younger bosses can feel intimated by experience. The age effect is a useful way to relieve generational tensions and establishing an authentic relationship (Knight 2015). It is incumbent to acknowledge that should stereotypes not exist, a more productive workforce may emerge.
To conclude, it is evident that employee’s from different generations possess different values. These are inherent or developed from their adolescence (Parry and Urwin 2011). The counter argument addressed highlights how generational differences may occur if there is a mismatch between individual and organisational values. In this instance, employees are likely to seek new opportunities for work. This research by Cennamo and Gardner (2008) was based on cross-sectional studies and self-reporting. Moreover, the stereotyping of individuals paves the way for discrimination to take place in the workplace (Grensing-Pophal 2013), with implications for the meaningfulness of work and future careers. The media play an important role in highlighting generational differences. The basis of their arguments is fundamentally wrong, without any empirical studies to back up their point. Furthermore, it is visible that dismissing employee’s skills and abilities based on stereotypes is flawed and untrue. As outlined in Knight’s (2014) article, a joint approach is required and an appreciation of one’s differences will lead to more knowledgeable, productive employee’s, just like Ron Garrow.


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