The Employment Expectations of Different Age Cohorts: Is Generation Y Really That Different?

By Treuren, Gerry; Anderson, Kathryn | Australian Journal of Career Development, Winter 2010 | Go to article overview

The Employment Expectations of Different Age Cohorts: Is Generation Y Really That Different?


Treuren, Gerry, Anderson, Kathryn, Australian Journal of Career Development


The existence of Generation Y is one of the dominant practitioner beliefs of our time (Casben, 2007; Preston, 2007a, 2007b; Sensis, 2007), and is regularly discussed at practitioner conferences and reported in professional journals such as HR Monthly and Human Resources in Australia. It would appear that the world of work is facing a fundamental challenge. In the popular theory of Generation Y, the expectations and behaviours of 20-something employees represent a major challenge to management practice and necessitate new management practices and employment approaches to attract, manage and retain these mercurial employees (Budd, 2008; Dinnell, 2006; Verret, 2000).

Although different writers use different dates, the majority of the literature holds that members of Generation Y were born between 1977 and 1992 (Markert, 2004). The members of Generation Y are believed to have very different attitudes to their work and career from their older co-workers. These employees are apparently 'fussy job-hoppers' (Budd, 2008) with limited loyalty to a single employer, and single-minded in their pursuit of career advancement and greater entitlements (Amble, 2003). At the heart of the Generation Y literature is the belief that the members of Generation Y are unambiguously different in their work attitudes compared to the generations that preceded them (Collier, 2009; Fisher, 2008; Huntley, 2006; Jorgensen, 2003; McCrindle Research, 2006).

Despite the volume and passion of the Generation Y literature, there is limited formal evidence that Generation Y actually exist as a unique and distinct group with distinctly different employment attitudes. This article presents evidence on the existence--or otherwise--of this age-based generation being distinctly different in its employment attitudes when compared with its predecessors. We compare the employment expectations of several age groups to see if there is an actual difference in employment expectations between Generation Y students and older students. We can find no clear difference in employment expectations between the three age-based cohorts in the data set analysed. Generation Y did not reveal themselves as a distinct grouping within this sample.

This article makes a contribution to the Generation Y literature by presenting evidence about the actual preferences of the different age-based groups. This research can be seen as a first step towards a more rigorous and evidence-based understanding of the nature and character of Generation Y. Further research is needed to understand the appearance and significance of Generation Y as a theory within the practitioner community, the nature of change of employment attitudes of individuals over time, and the role of broader societal changes in influencing the scope and freedom with which employees express their aspirations.

We will use the term 'Generation Y' to denote employees who are aged less than 30 years old at the time of data collection in September 2007. 'Generation Y attributes' and 'Generation Y employee expectations' refer to the set of characteristics attributed to Generation Y.

The Practitioner and Popular Literature

A substantial practitioner and consulting literature has emerged in the past decade to describe and explain the Generation Y phenomenon. Generally gloomy in tone, this literature does not doubt the existence of Generation Y and is concerned with identifying their characteristics (Fisher, 2008; Huntley, 2006; Sheahan, 2005). Within this literature, much effort is expended in proposing ways of avoiding the problem of Generation Y or of managing Generation Y employees (Cassie, 2006; Foreman, 2006; National Skills Industry Commission, 2008; Packer, 2008; Verret, 2000).

A much smaller number of writers within this literature are more optimistic: for example, Howe and Strauss's (2000) Millennials Rising sees Generation Y as a positive but misunderstood force. This subcategory of literature takes two forms. …

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