Despite recent emphasis on generational differences in terms of motivation, value systems and learning preferences at work, a research scientist at the Center for Creative Leadership has found the “generational divide” is not really that prevalent.
Jennifer Deal’s book, “Retiring the Generation Gap: How Employees Young & Old Can Find Common Ground,” is based on seven years of research surveying more than 3,000 corporate leaders.
“Our research shows that when you hold the stereotypes up to the light, they don’t cast much of a shadow,” Deal said. “Everyone wants to be able to trust their supervisors, no one really likes change, we all like feedback and the number of hours you put in at work depends more on your level in the organization than on your age.”
The generations in today’s workplace, and some of their associated stereotypes, are as follows:
- Silent Generation (values industriousness)
- Baby boomers (value loyalty)
- Generation X (value work-life balance)
- Generation Y (value innovation)
Although differences do exist among the age groups, the issues that might arise in the workplace are based more on prestige and power rather than generational conflicts.
“The so-called generation gap is, in large part, the result of miscommunication and misunderstanding, fueled by common insecurities and the desire for clout,” Deal said.
One of the top similarities among the generational groups is family consistently topping the list of priorities or values — whether young or old, today’s workers consider family to be of the utmost importance.
Additionally, Deal’s research revealed that a universal desire for respect exists among all generations.
The difference lies in the definition of how people grant respect. According to the surveys, older individuals consider it “giving my opinions the weight I believe they deserve.” Younger individuals think it is respectful when others “listen to me and pay attention to what I have to say.”
In the same vein as respect, all generations value trust, specifically in their leaders — they must be trustworthy, all generational members say.
Every generation wants to learn (specifically, everyone wants to get the training necessary to do their job well) and receive feedback, especially if it will help them improve their work performance.
On the flip side of the coin, all generations — even the younger ones — are uncomfortable with change. Deal said this phenomenon does not have a great deal to do with age but with how much a person will gain or lose with the onset of the change.
Further, Deal’s research found that members of younger generations are not necessarily less loyal than their older counterparts. Rather, the higher the position a person holds in the organization, the more loyalty he or she likely will feel toward the company.