San Diego — April 13
When it comes to our understanding of generational differences in the workplace, conventional wisdom has it mostly wrong, according to a new book by Jennifer Deal, a research scientist with the Center for Creative Leadership.
The conventional shorthand for the four generations that now share our nation’s workplaces goes something like this: the Silent Generation values hard work, baby boomers value loyalty, Gen Xers value work-life balance and Generation Y (the generation just entering the workforce) values innovation and change.
Or in terms of negative stereotypes, the Silents are fossilized, the boomers are narcissistic, the Gen Xers are slackers and the Gen Yers are even more narcissistic than the boomers.
Not so, Deal says. She argues the generations in the workforce value essentially the same things.
Her findings are based on seven years of research, during which she surveyed more than 3,000 corporate leaders.
The findings are presented in her new book, “Retiring the Generation Gap: How Employees Young & Old Can Find Common Ground.”
“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.”
Clearly, people of different ages see the world in different ways. But that’s not the primary reason for generational conflict, according to the book.
The conflict has less to do with age or generational differences than it does with clout — who has it, and who wants it.
“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.
The research is important because it demonstrates there is plenty of common ground among the generations.
Deal uses the research to provide practical advice on how to use that common ground to effectively work with, work for, attract, manage, retain and develop employees of all generations.
Among the author’s findings:
- All generations have similar values. Many people talk about the enormous differences in values between older and younger people as if these differences were an established fact. The most striking result of the research, Deal says, is how similar the generations are in the values that matter most. Family tops the list for all of the generations.
- Everyone wants respect. We often hear that younger people are disrespectful of older employees and those in authority. We also hear complaints that older people show no respect for younger talent and ideas. Everyone wants respect, but the generations don’t define it in the same way. In the study, older individuals talked about respect in terms of “giving my opinions the weight I believe they deserve,” while younger ren spondents characterized respect as “listen to me, pay attention to what I have to say.”
- Leaders must be trustworthy. Different generations do not have notably different expectations of their leaders. Above all else, people of all generations want leaders they can trust.
- No one really likes change. The stereotype is that older people resist change while younger people embrace it. These assumptions don’t stand up under the research, which found that people from all generations are uncomfortable with change. Resistance to change has nothing to do with age — it has to do with how much you stand to gain or lose as a result of the change.
- Loyalty depends on context. It is said that younger generations are not as loyal to their organizations as older workers. But the research shows, for example, that the amount of time a worker puts in each day has more to do with his or her level in the organization than with age. The higher the level, the more hours worked.
- Everyone wants to learn. Learning and development were among the issues brought up most frequently by people of all generations. Everyone wants to learn and to make certain they have the training to do their job well.
- Everyone likes feedback. According to the research, everyone wants to know how they are doing and wants to learn how to do better.