Byline: Ellen Read
It's a media and marketing staple - Gen Y (aka Gen Why) is made up of arrogant upstarts who expect it all, don't want to work hard or persevere and are generally pretty irritating in the workplace.
According to market researchers, Baby Boomers are those born post-war to the early 1960s, Generation X includes those born up until the late 1970s to early 1980s, followed by Generation Y. Gen Y are coming of age and entering the workforce in increasing numbers. Anecdotes abound about the challenges of working with them, be it as a co-worker or manager.
Research by AUT's associate professor Keith Macky looked at the dynamic of different generations in the workplace and found some surprising results: surprising in that the study debunks many of the popular Gen Y workplace myths.
He challenges an increasing reference in the popular management press to the notions that there are clearly defined and identifiable generations at work (Baby Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y, among others) with different world views, work ethics and workplace expectations, derived from different major life experiences in their formative years (for example, wars, major technological developments and social movements), and who therefore require different management techniques.
"Much is asserted but little evidence is presented. And those who are most vocal on the differences between the generations are those with something to sell - recruitment consultants, management gurus, authors," Macky says.
The study, with Peter Boxall professor, human resources at the University of Auckland, included a nationwide telephone survey of more than 1000 people in full- and part-time work. They measured a range of work experiences and attitudes - including job satisfaction, organisational commitment, empowerment, stress, trust in management and work-life balance - but found that differences could not be attributed to generational cohorts.
As Macky and his colleagues report:
"In contrast to popular belief, Generation Y workers are not much different than Baby Boomers or Generation X. We did find a minuscule difference in the job fatigue ratings and stress, with Generation Y reporting more tiredness on the job and job-related stress. But that could be due to their busy after-hours lifestyle and having fewer coping mechanisms than older workers."
He argues that the differences we see in people's work attitudes and outcomes are more likely to relate to differences in their length of experience and career stage, rather than specific generational effects.
"Gen Y employees are obviously the youngest in the workplace, meaning they are unlikely to be at a senior career level. As the newcomers, they are likely to fill contract or part-time roles which often come with less pay and lower job security. It also means they are less likely to join unions which can place them more at risk of management exploitation," says Macky, explaining that these factors could well explain any perceived generational differences. …