Forget labels, value the individual

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New research by Massey University PhD graduate, Kristin Murray, has shown there are more similarities in attitudes between the generations than differences.

She was inspired to investigate the topic after working for a call centre business with a predominantly youthful workforce, and wanted to better understand the workplace issues her employer was experiencing with its ‘Generation Y’ staff, and whether this group should be managed differently from other generational cohorts.

“I started out with many of the usual preconceptions, especially about Generation Y, because of what I was seeing in the workplace – there were often issues around inappropriate dress and punctuality, and many needed constant feedback and praise,” Murray stated.

“I expected to find some clear differences in the attitudes of Veterans, Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y, but that changed during the course of my research. I was surprised to learn that there are actually more similarities than differences between the generational cohorts.”

Murray constructed a questionnaire based on a series of in-depth interviews where participants were asked to describe what factors made a job more ideal than other jobs. They also had to rate the importance of a range of statements.

What she found was “remarkable” similarities in what all the groups sought in an ideal job. The top-rated values for all groups were job satisfaction and job fulfilment, as were people-focused statements like ‘Good rapport with colleagues’, ‘Enjoy the people I work with’ and ‘Supportive team’.

“From the literature you would expect Baby Boomers to rate having a good rapport with their colleagues highly as they are depicted as being relationship-focused,” Murray explained. “But Gen X-ers are usually described as independent and autonomous so, for them, that finding challenges the stereotype.”

Murray said the key take-out from her research is that stereotypes associated with each of the generational cohorts should be ignored.

“Baby Boomers are demographically significant so I can see that it’s a useful planning tool to identify this large group of people coming through, but in many ways terms like Gen Y or Gen X are just labels,” she said.

Murray advised a better approach is to understand each individual’s particular values.

“While a younger person may behave quite differently to an older person at work, what they value might not be as different as you think. Companies will get the best results from staff if they look at needs on an individual basis,” she said.

“And when considering programmes, it’s best to implement policies for everyone instead of trying to target the needs of a particular generational cohort.”

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