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Differences Between Generations in the Workplace

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Cory Williams

on 6 April 2014

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Transcript of Differences Between Generations in the Workplace

In order to undertake research it was important for Evolve Consultants to have a comprehensive understanding of what a generation is and what factors characterise a generation.
Definition of Generations
Baby Boomers: At Work
Baby Boomers are thought to value status and extrinsic rewards as they have a strong focus on hard work and achievement. They are said to be loyal and committed to organisations consequently they often have difficulty balancing work and family (Collins 1998; Lancaster and Stillman 2002).
This theory is reinforced by Kupperschmidt (2000) who states that Baby Boomers have shown a strong work ethic and high job involvement, which allowed them to benefit from economic security and career success, although often at the expense of their personal lives.
"Baby Boomers have been found to rate the chance to learn new skills, personal improvement and creativity at work as important" (Cennamo and Gardner 2008, p.892). This is likely to be because they have a "high interest in self-fulfillment through personal growth" (Parker and Chusmir 1990).
Background: Generation X
Generation X were a generation bought up through a period of financial and social insecurity with the 1980's recession and family disruption (due to a high divorce rate) (Ergi and Ralston 2004).
They were the first generation to be comprised of single-parents or dual-income earners who alternated child care responsibilities. Key events in their upbringing was the AID's epidemic, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Cold War (Schullery 2013; Dries et al. 2008)
Generation X are often labeled the 'forgotten generation' as they have "more conservative political and family values than Baby Boomers" (Ergi and Ralston 2004, p.213) therefore less is known about them.
Background: Baby Boomers
Schullery (2013) outlines that a key influential factor on Boomers was the "advent of television" (p.253) as well as "active in radical social changes" (Ergi and Ralston 2004, p.213) such as "the civil rights movement, the women's movement, nightly protests against U.S actions in Vietnam, and the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr." (p.254).
The Baby Boomer generation is generally viewed as quite fortunate as "they grew up in optimistic and positive times" (Cennamo and Gardner 2008, p.892) during a period of "unprecedented prosperity and affluence that followed World War II" (Ergi and Ralston 2004, p.213).

Secondary Research
Differences Between Generations in the Workplace
"Generation theory proposes significant macrolevel social, political, and economic events that occured during a births cohorts impressionable preadult years result in generational identity and comprise distinctive set of values, beliefs, expectations, and behaviours that remain relatively stable throughout a generations lifetime" (Ergi and Ralston 2004, p.210)
An "identifiable group that shares birth years, age location, and significant life events at critical development stages" (Kupperschmidt 2000, p.66)
Smith and Clurman (1998 concluded that those within a generation share "life experiences of their forumaltive years" (p.3). Schullery (2013) adds that these include life experiences such as pop culture, economic conditions, world events. natural disasters, and technology.

The Four Generations In The Workforce:
Dates for the generations vary slightly among the literature but it is generally agreed that each generation is around the following birth years:

Silent Generation: 1925-1945
Baby Boomers: 1946-1964
Generation X: 1965 - 1980
Generation Y: 1981 - 2001

The literature highlights that not all people born between the same birth years exhibit the same attributes especially if born between the beginning or the end of a generations time frame as they can be "divided by five-seven years into the first wave, core wave, and last wave" (Kupperschmidt 2000, p.364). "Those born in adjacent birth years are regarded as having been very close to the same shared defining experiences" (Twenge, et al. 2010, p.1120).

This project will not focus on the Silent Generation as Warner Bros. do not have any employees from this generation.
Despite Generation X being much smaller in comparison to the Baby Boomers they were still faced will high unemployment levels due to the economic difficulties (Schullery 2013).
As there were economic difficulties which created a lack of job security, Generation X were prepared to change jobs more frequently and therefore they became more committed to their own careers rather than organisations as they learnt to become more individualistic (Lyons 2004; Ergi and Ralston 2004). They typically view organisations as distrustful as they feel their parents heavy commitment was undervalued (Petroulas et al. 2010).
Unlike their predecessors, Generation X place less importance on job security and status but value challenging work, personal freedom and work-life balance. It is said that Generation X strive for work-life balance after the Baby Boomers personal lives often suffered due to their commitment to their work (Cennamo and Gardener 2008; Kupperschmidt 2000)
Generation X are more risk tolerant and are therefore entrepreneurial risk takers who are more concerned with the outcome than the process (Ergi and Ralston 2004; Kaifi et al. 2012).
Generation X: At Work
Generation Y: Background
The growth of the internet along with extreme technological innovation are widely agreed as the most critical socio-cultural factor in this generations upbringing along with the Gulf War and 9/11 terrorism attacks (Schullery 2013; Cennamo and Gardner 2008).
Several famous child kidnappings led to a cultural shift where parents became overly involved in their children's lives (Tulgan 2009). This led to parents not only protecting their children from life threatening events but also from ego-damaging, such as failing grades with children continually nurtured with praise and being rewarded for participation rather than winning (Tapscott 2009; Kaifi 2012).
Children were more likely to play indoors on video games rather than exploring the outdoors for the first time (Schullery 2013).
Generation Y: At Work
Recent research has suggested that as Generation Y are able to process fast-moving images more quickly due their brains being stimulated by digital technology from a young age. This allows them to "access, sort categorise, and remember" information more easily (Tapscott 2009, p.30)
As Generation Y grew up during a period of technological innovation has made them the most adaptable to technological skills (Cennamo and Gardner 2008).
Generation Y value intrinsic rewards more than their predecessors such as holiday, flexible working, as well as mentoring and training in order to remain marketable as they are said to be the generation that is constantly learning (Lyons 2004; Helyer and Lee 2012; Petroulas et al. 2010)
Generation Y, like Generation X are said to value work-life balance as well as career development. They are also the most willing to travel overseas with a more global outlook on life (Cennamo and Gardner 2008; Petroulas et al. 2010).
Members of this generation prefer to collaborate and work together in teams on work that they view as important (Helyer and Lee 2012; Kaifi 2012).
Generation Y are said to have the highest expectations of the workplace, with more confidence, through their nurtured upbringing, to challenge management (Helyer and Lee 2012). These high expectations have resulted in workers with a clear picture of the way they believe work should be with progression and promotion expected quickly (Petroulas et al. 2010).
Generation Y typically work to live as "a job provides resources to do the other things they want to do" (Petroulas et al. 2010, p.228). They are the most socially conscious generation who only want to be involved in work that has meaning (Lancaster and Stillman 2002).
The Research Problem
It is well documented amongst the literature that generations think and act differently and this is becoming increasingly apparent with Generation Y's expectations, values and motivations being extremely different to those of previous generations.

Therefore employers need to adapt to ensure they are able to meet the changing and higher expectations of the younger generation. This is essential so companies can attract and retain young employees of the highest calibre which will in turn replace previous generations.

However, with four generations in the workplace it is essential that they are able to interact and work effectively alongside one another.
Overview of the Generations
Dries et al. 2008 p.910
Areas of Interest
Evolve consultancy will specifically look at whether the employees at Warner Bros. expectations, motivations and career values match their typical generations portrayal in the literature. We will also analyse specific areas of interest as a result from the survey and probe further during our focus groups to ensure we provide Warner Bros. with in-depth responses and recommendations of how they can further utilise their multi-generational workforce.
Research Gaps
Although there is a plethora of information on the differences between the generations in the workplace, practically many theorists have achieved varying results when undertaking studies within organisations.

Consequently many studies have not been able to prove the literature that generations are behaving differently. "No significant differences were found between generations" (Driers et al. 2008).
Evolve will be looking to test whether the different generations do act differently within the workplace as the literature suggests specifically focusing on whether generation Y is unique to all predecessor generations with many journals highlighting their radical needs and high expectations. If these are found to be true Evolve will research how Warner Bros. can manage the generations more effectively in order to be able to further utilise their multi-generational workforce.
Area of Interested Continued...
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