A Review of the Empirical Evidence on Generational Differences in Work Attitudes
This article reviews the evidence for generational differences in work values from time-lag studies (which can separate generation from age/career stage) and cross-sectional studies (which cannot). Understanding generational shifts is especially important given the coming retirement of Baby Boomer workers and their replacement by those born after 1982 (GenMe/GenY/Millennials).
Most studies, including the few time-lag studies, show that GenX and especially GenMe rate work as less central to their lives, value leisure more, and express a weaker work ethic than Boomers and Silents. Extrinsic work values (e.g., salary) are higher in GenMe and especially GenX. Contrary to popular conceptions, there were no generational differences in altruistic values (e.g., wanting to help others). Conflicting results appeared in desire for job stability, intrinsic values (e.g., meaning), and social/affiliative values (e.g., making friends). GenX, and especially GenMe are consistently higher in individualistic traits. Overall, generational differences are important where they appear, as even small changes at the average mean that twice or three times as many individuals score at the top of the distribution.
To recruit GenMe, companies should focus on work–life balance issues and flexible schedules. Programs based on volunteering, altruistic values, social values, or meaning in work will likely be no more successful than they were for previous generations. The lack of generational differences in job hopping suggests that GenMe workers who are satisfied will be retained.
No previous review has summarized all of the available studies examining generational differences in work values.
KeywordsWork values Generations Work ethic Leisure Extrinsic values
The author would like to thank Dr. Charlotte Sutton for providing the standard deviations from her 2002 research study.
- Alsop, R. (2008). The trophy kids go to work. The Wall Street Journal, October 21. Accessed December 2, 2008, from http://www.onlinewsj.com.
- Appelbaum, S. H., Serena, M., & Shapiro, B. T. (2004). Generation X and the Boomers: Organizational myths and literary realities. Management Research News, 27, 1–28.Google Scholar
- Arnett, J. J. (2004). Emerging adulthood. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Chao, L. (2005). For Gen Xers, it’s work to live: Allowing employees to strike balance between job and life can lead to better retention rates. The Wall Street Journal, Eastern edition, November 29, B6.Google Scholar
- Cohen, J. (1977). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
- Davis, J. B., Pawlowski, S. D., & Houston, A. (2006). Work commitments of Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers in the IT profession: Generational differences or myth? Journal of Computer Information Systems, 46, 43–49.Google Scholar
- Families and Work Institute. (2006). Generation and gender in the workplace. American Business Collaboration. http://familiesandwork.org/site/research/reports/main.html.
- Gloeckler, G. (2008). The millennials invade the B-schools. Business Week, 47–50. November 13, 2008.Google Scholar
- Harris Poll. (2008). Widely held attitudes to different generations. August 20, 2008, from http://www.harrisinteractive.com/news/allnewsbydate.asp?NewsID=1328.
- Hira, N. A. (2007). Attracting the twentysomething worker. Fortune (online exclusive), May 15, 2007. Accessed August 31, 2009, from http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/2007/05/28/100033934/index.htm.
- Howe, N., & Strauss, W. (2000). Millennials rising: The next great generation. New York: Vintage Books.Google Scholar
- Jurkiewicz, C. L. (2000). Generation X and the public employee. Public Personnel Management, 29, 55–74.Google Scholar
- Kowske, B. J., Rasch, R., & Wiley, J. (2010). Millennials’ (lack of) attitude problem: An empirical examination of generation effects on work attitudes. Journal of Business and Psychology.Google Scholar
- Lancaster, L. C., & Stillman, D. (2003). When generations collide: Who they are, why they clash. How to solve the generational puzzle at work. New York: HarperCollins.Google Scholar
- Needleman, S. E. (2008). The latest office perk: Getting paid to volunteer. More companies subsidize donations of time and talent; bait for Millennial Generation. The Wall Street Journal, April 29, 25–26.Google Scholar
- Sessa, V. I., Kabacoff, R. I., Deal, J., & Brown, H. (2007). Generational differences in leader values and leadership behaviors. The Psychologist-Manager Journal, 10, 47–74.Google Scholar
- Tulgan, B. (2009). Not everyone gets a trophy: How to manage Generation Y. New York: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
- Twenge, J. M. (2006). Generation Me: Why today’s young Americans are more confident, assertive, entitled—and more miserable than ever before. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
- Twenge, J. M., & Campbell, W. K. (2009). The narcissism epidemic: Living in the age of entitlement. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
- Twenge, J. M., Campbell, S. M., Hoffman, B. R., & Lance, C. E. (in press). Generational differences in work values: Leisure and extrinsic values increasing, social and intrinsic values decreasing. Journal of Management.Google Scholar