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Generational Differences in the Workplace


In his article John Hansen (2008) focuses on such an issue multigenerational workface. The author singles out such groups of employees as Baby Boomers, Builders, and Generations X or Y (Hansen, p. 28). The writer puts forward an argument that such age differences can be of great benefit to an organization because multigenerational workforce has the experience of older people and energy of younger employees (p. 28). Yet, the management has to reconcile the values, needs, and goals of such workers in order to achieve greater productivity. On the whole, this article is related to several questions that are studied by organizational psychologists. For example, one can single out such important issue: 1) teamwork in the workplace; 2) the motivation of employees; and 3) their ethical norms and values; and 4) job design. These issues have often been discussed by scholars and practitioners. Yet, it is necessary to look at them from the perspective of age. Many people believe that generation gap can adversely affect the performance; yet, a great number of problems can be avoided if managers learn more about the behavior and goals of people who represent different age groups.

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Teamwork in a multigenerational workplace

One of the most important tasks for a business administrator is to promote teamwork in the workplace. This is one of the questions that are studied by industrial and organizational psychologists (O’Driscoll, Taylor, & Kalliath, 2003). On the whole, managers should remember that various generations can have different attitudes towards teamwork. For example, Xers or people who were born in the sixties and seventies, tend to be more individualistic (Sirias, Karp & Brotherton, 2007, p. 753). Moreover, they attach more importance to such values as self-reliance and competiveness (Sirias, Karp & Brotherton, p. 753). In turn, Baby Boomers and Millennials are more willing to work in groups (Nelson, 2007, p. 5).

Additionally, younger people have a higher need for authenticity. This means that they want to align their internal values with external behavior and the values of the company in they work (Sullivan et al. 2009, p. 290). Furthermore, according to the findings of psychologists, younger people enjoy working for themselves, rather than for others (Jurkiewicz 2000, p. 58). These are some of the main issues that managers should take into account if they want to improve the interactions between employees of different ages.

Yet, these differences do not imply that teams cannot include people who represent different age groups. There are several things that a manager should do. First of all, managers should promote egalitarian relation in the workplace. The performance of a worker should be assessed according to his or her contribution, rather the position in the hierarchy. In this way, managers will encourage younger people to take part in teamwork. These people should know that their contribution will be recognized. Secondly, managers should create an environment in which people are not afraid of expressing their opinions even if such opinions contradict the dominant views.

In this way, they can make teamwork more productive and more enjoyable for the participants of different ages. Yet, such results are possible in the so-called flat organizations in which the power distance between workers is smaller (Holtsnider & Jaffe, 2012, p. 60). This form of organizational structure can appeal to various age groups (Holtsnider & Jaffe, p. 60). In such businesses the influence of generation gap will be less noticeable. Furthermore, managers should make sure that their teams include those individuals who can involve other people in the teamwork. They have to demonstrate that only joining their efforts employees can produce better results. Therefore, the so-called generation gap can be overcome, if business administrators know how people of different age groups behave.

Motivation of multigenerational workforce

Another question that has been discussed during the course is the motivation of workers. A manager, who deals with multigenerational workforce, has to find several ways of engaging employees. First of all, studies suggest that older employees are more concerned with various retirement issues such as pension plans or the ability to spend more time with their families (Jurkiewicz 2000, p. 58; O’Toole & Ferry 2002, p. 41). In turn, younger employees are more concerned with professional growth and promotion (Jurkiewicz 2000, p. 58). Finally, Millennials value the opportunity to acquire new knowledge and skills (Nelson, 2007, p. 5). These differences can have significant implications for managers who must find ways of motivating employees. For instance, when dealing with younger employees they will have to stress career opportunities (Jurkiewicz, p. 58). In turn, they will have to offer older people flexible working hours and improved pension plans. Additionally, they can motivate employees by enabling them to develop new skills and gain new experiences.

These differences between generations should be of great importance to people who develop compensation policies of the company. The knowledge of people’s values and goals can help a company reduce its running costs. For instance, they can offer young people non-monetary awards such as promotion, training or flexible working hours (Pattanayak, 2005, p. 263). Such rewards are not usually expensive, but they can provide a powerful incentive to workers. The thing is that many companies focus on monetary rewards such as cash bonuses forgetting that non-monetary compensation can also be very efficient. This is how organizational psychology can benefit companies and public organizations. Motivation can be made much easier, provided that business administrators know what things the workers value. Special attention should be paid to those aspects of work that bring professional fulfillment.

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Ethical norms and values

There are other issues that managers should take into consideration and one of them is ethical norms and values. They can differ across generations. First of all, baby-boomers attach importance to organizational loyalty (Hayes & Ninemeier, 2008, p. 412). Certainly, one cannot extend this characteristic to every baby-boomer, but for many of them the loyalty to the organization and co-workers is an ethical norm that should not be violated. In contrast, people belonging to Generation X value individualism, rather than group welfare (Hayes & Ninemeier, p. 412). Furthermore, people of older generations normally display a higher respect for authority than it is done by people who were born in the seventies or eighties (Hayes & Ninemeier, p. 412). Those employees, who belong to the Generations X or Y, like egalitarian relations in the workplace.

They do not like working in organizations that have rigid power structures in which an employee cannot take initiatives and make decisions on ones own (Hayes & Ninemeier, p. 412). Furthermore, many young people believe that work has to include an element of fun (Hayes & Ninemeier, p. 412). This is one of the reasons why many companies have recreational facilities at the workplace. In turn, such behavior may seem unacceptable for people of the Baby Boom Generation. Surely, one cannot assume that these differences in perceptions always manifest themselves. Yet, researches warn practitioners against making far-fetched conjectures about generational differences; in many cases, attitudes toward work are dependent on individual characteristics such as education, rather than generational membership (Costanza et al, 2012, p. 1). However, they can be a cause of conflicts in the workplace, unless managers can prevent them. One of the ways in which it can be done is by forming teams in which there is a person who can build the bridge between several generations. Usually, this role should be played by an experienced employee who remains open to innovation and the values of other people. Such a person can reconcile a great number of possible disagreements and avert conflicts.

Retention of employees and job design

Other issue that is of great importance for practitioners and scholars is the retention of workers. In order to make sure that workers want to stay with the company, one should first determine what kind of things bring enjoyment to workers or what kind of things they value most. As it has said before, younger employees are more likely to be interested in professional growth, experience, and ability to achieve recognition. Certainly, one cannot argue that money is of no importance for them, it will not be the top priority for them, especially if compared with professional growth and fulfillment. In contrast, older people will be more likely to value long-term financial benefits. They usually prefer to stay in an organization that has achieved status in the market. They are not willing to choose a start-up business over a reputed company. Additionally, researchers point out that work-related values tend to change when a person grows older. Such changes in work values are more typical of younger employees (Jing & Rounds, 2012, p. 326). This issue should be considered by HR professionals who have to find ways of recruiting and retaining talented employees who can represent different age groups.

Job design is another task that always attracts much attention of managers and scholars. If we look at this question from the point of view of age, we should first speak about such issue as acceptance of change in the workplace. Younger workers are more ready to work in a changing environment, in which they have to meet different requirements (Hayes & Ninemeier, p. 412). For instance, they can easily work in matrix organizations in which employees have to do several projects under the guidance of several managers. Moreover, they can dislike the work which is completely deprived of changes. In contrast, older employees are not accustomed to work under such circumstances in part because such methods of job design have become popular fairly recently. Usually, they will need more time to get used to various changes in the workplace. Additionally, the use of technology also differs across generations. Younger people are usually likely to adopt new technologies (Morris & Venkatesh, 2006, p. 375). Thus, the managers who allocate tasks should know about such differences. Thus, these examples show that the knowledge of generational differences can improve compensation policies, motivation, teamwork, or job design.


Overall, this discussion has several important implications. First, managers should be able to recognize the differences existing between generations. These differences can manifest themselves in different attitudes toward teamwork or different sources of motivation. Nevertheless, a workforce that is diverse in terms of age has produce great results, because it combines the experiences of older generations and the energy of younger people. These are the assets that every organization should capitalize. This goal can be achieved if manager make use of the findings provided by organizational psychology. This discipline can offer valuable information about the behavior of employees, their goals, priorities, and perceptions. In this way, they can turn a multigenerational workforce into a competitive advantage.

Reference List

Costanza, D., Badger, J., Fraser, R., Severt, J. & Gade P. (2012) Generational Differences in Work-Related Attitudes: A Meta-analysis. Journal of Business and Psychology, 81(1), 1-20. Web.

Hansen, J. (2012). There is room for everyone. The Strait Times, p. 28.

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Hayes, D. & Ninemeier, J. (2008). Human Resources Management in the Hospitality Industry. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Holtsnider, B. & Jaffe, B. (2012). IT Manager’s Handbook: Getting Your New Job Done. New York: Elsevier.

Jing, J. & Rounds, J. (2012) Stability and change in work values: A meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 80(2), 326-339.

Jurkiewicz, C. L. (2000). Generation X and the public employee. Public Personnel Management, 29(1), 55-74. Web.

Morris, M & Venkatesh, V. (2006). Age differences in technology adoption decisions: Implications for a changing work force. Personnel Psychology, 53 (2), 375-403. Web.

Nelson, B. (2007). Tips and Techniques to Bridge the Generation Gaps. Health Care Registration: The Newsletter For Health Care Registration Professionals, 16(4), 3-5.

O’Driscoll, M., Taylor, P. & Kalliath, T. (2003). Organisational psychology in Australia and New Zealand. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.

O’Toole, R. & Ferry, J. (2002). The Growing Importance of Elder Care Benefits for an Aging Workforce. Compensation & Benefits Management, 18(1), 40-45.

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Pattanayak, B. (2005). Human Resource Management 3Rd Ed. New York: PHI Learning Pvt. Ltd.

Sirias, D., Karp, H. B., & Brotherton, T. (2007). Comparing the levels of individualism/collectivism between baby boomers and generation X. Management Research News, 30(10), 749-761. Web.

Sullivan, S. E., Forret, M. L., Carraher, S. M., & Mainiero, L. A. (2009). Using the kaleidoscope career model to examine generational differences in work attitudes. Career Development International, 14(3), 284-302. Web.

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