The Intergenerational Workforce, Revisited

By Johnson, James A.; Lopes, John | Organization Development Journal, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

The Intergenerational Workforce, Revisited


Johnson, James A., Lopes, John, Organization Development Journal


Abstract

Factors associated with generational differences are explored as they pertain to the workplace and organizational life. The authors conclude there are little differences between fundamental motivations and organizational behavior across the various age groupings commonly used in popular literature and media. Organization development consultants and human resource managers may want to reconsider assumptions about developing and managing the multi-generational workforce.

Introduction

Last year, the U.S. reached a population of 300 million and probably for the first time in history there are four generations in the workforce. The implications of this for management, organizational development, and strategic planning are quite profound. Not only is the workforce now more multi-generational it is also more multi-national. While much has been written on diversity management and a growing body of literature is emerging on generational management, there has not been a significant level of scrutiny of the many underlying assumptions. In this paper, the authors explore assumptions and stereotypes most commonly associated with the management and development of the multi-generational workforce.

The generations following the Baby Boomers are commonly referred to as the "Millennial Generation," "Generation Y," and "Generation X," constitute approximately 100 million Americans between the ages of 5 and 40. The popular literature contains many books and articles dealing with generational issues such as conflict in the workplace, suggestions for recruitment and retention, and management of the different age groups. Much of this advice is predicated on generational characteristics assigned to each age cohort based on significant social, economic, and political events experienced by the members of a given generation.

The challenge with trying to use these various generation-based characteristics in workforce planning is compelling. There is increasing evidence that the stereotypes may not be quite accurate and there might not be significant differences in motivational factors in the workplace (Appelbaum, Serena and Shapiro, 2004; Levy, Carroll, Francoeur and Logue, 2005; Kunreuther, 2006).

Generational influences

One major limitation with assigning a descriptive name to a particular generation is the variability of the birth year limits used by various authors. While 1965 is the consensus date used for the start of the cohort called Generation X, the end limit varies from 1976 (Harris, 2005) to 1980 (Kyles, 2005; Eisner, 2006). For the most recently identified generational cohort, the Millennial, the starting year ranges from 1977 (Harris, 2005) to 1982 (Howe and Strauss, 2000) with an ending date as early as 1984 (Lovem, 2001) to an open ended year (Eisner, 2005; Harris, 2005; Kyles; 2005). There is also the concept of the "cusper", someone bom in or near the year limit of the generational divide that might fall within the age range of one generation but experience the social, political, and economic events of the next.

Age related characteristics

Much of what is reported in the popular and professional literature on this subject includes the personal, national, and international events purported to influence each of the last two generations of Americans. Many authors claim that having experienced diese events, certain workplace behaviors result (Wendover, 2005).

For the age cohort called Generation X, events experienced include high rates of parental divorce resulting in a generation of "latch-key" kids (Eisner, 2005). Additional influences include economic uncertainty, the AIDS pandemic, and the fall of communism. They watched as corporations reduced their workforces and their parents lost job security. Older members of this generation saw Richard Nixon resign in disgrace over a burglary and Ronald Reagan's advisors face investigation for selling arms to Iran and covertly supporting a rebel faction in Nicaragua. …

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