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.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
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.
Arnett, J. J. (2004). Emerging adulthood. New York: Oxford University Press.
Baumeister, R. F., Bratslavsky, E., Finkenauer, C., & Vohs, K. D. (2001). Bad is stronger than good. Review of General Psychology, 5, 323–370.
Busch, P., Venkitachalam, K., & Richards, D. (2008). Generational differences in soft knowledge situations: Status, need for recognition, workplace commitment and idealism. Knowledge and Process Management, 15, 45–58.
Cennamo, L., & Gardner, D. (2008). Generational differences in work values, outcomes and person-organisation values fit. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 23, 891–906.
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.
Ciriello, V. M., Dempsey, P. G., Maikala, R. V., & O’Brien, N. V. (2008). Secular changes in psychophysically determined maximum acceptable weights and forces over 20 years for male industrial workers. Ergonomics, 51, 593–601.
Cohen, J. (1977). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences. New York: Academic Press.
D’Amato, A., & Herzfeld, R. (2008). Learning orientation, organizational commitment, and talent retention across generations: A study of European managers. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 23, 929–953.
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.
Dries, N., Pepermans, R., & De Kerpel, E. (2008). Exploring four generations' beliefs about career: Is "satisfied" the new "successful"? Journal of Managerial Psychology, 23, 907–928.
Dumais, S. A. (2009). The academic attitudes of American teenagers, 1990–2002: Cohort and gender effects on math achievement. Social Science Research, 38, 767–780.
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.
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.
Jurkiewicz, C. L. (2000). Generation X and the public employee. Public Personnel Management, 29, 55–74.
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.
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.
Low, K. S. D., Yoon, M., Roberts, B. W., & Rounds, J. (2005). The stability of vocational interests from early adolescence to middle adulthood: A quantitative review of longitudinal studies. Psychological Bulletin, 131, 713–737.
Malhotra, N., & Krosnick, J. A. (2007). The effect of survey mode and sampling on inferences about political attitudes and behavior: Comparing the 2000 and 2004 ANES to Internet surveys with nonprobability samples. Political Analysis, 15, 286–323.
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.
Schaie, K. W. (1965). A general model for the study of developmental problems. Psychological Bulletin, 64, 92–107.
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.
Sirias, D., Karp, H. B., & Brotherton, T. (2007). Comparing the levels of individualism/collectivism between baby boomers and generation X. Management Research News, 30, 749–761.
Smola, K. W., & Sutton, C. D. (2002). Generational differences: Revisiting generational work values for the new millennium. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 23, 363–382.
Tulgan, B. (2009). Not everyone gets a trophy: How to manage Generation Y. New York: Jossey-Bass.
Twenge, J. M. (2001). Changes in women’s assertiveness in response to status and roles: A cross-temporal meta-analysis, 1931–1993. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81, 133–145.
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.
Twenge, J. M., & Campbell, W. K. (2001). Age and birth cohort differences in self-esteem: A cross-temporal meta-analysis. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 5, 321–344.
Twenge, J. M., & Campbell, S. M. (2008). Generational differences in psychological traits and their impact on the workplace. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 23, 862–877.
Twenge, J. M., & Campbell, W. K. (2009). The narcissism epidemic: Living in the age of entitlement. New York: Free Press.
Twenge, J. M., & Campbell, W. K. (2010). Birth cohort differences in the monitoring the future dataset and elsewhere: Further evidence for Generation Me. Perspectives in Psychological Science, 5, 81–88.
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.
Twenge, J. M., & Foster, J. D. (2010). Birth cohort increases in narcissistic personality traits among American college students, 1982–2009. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 1, 99–106.
Twenge, J. M., Konrath, S., Foster, J. D., Campbell, W. K., & Bushman, B. J. (2008). Egos inflating over time: A cross-temporal meta-analysis of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory. Journal of Personality, 76, 875–901.
Wong, M., Gardiner, E., Lang, W., & Coulon, L. (2008). Generational differences in personality and motivation: Do they exist and what are the implications for the workplace? Journal of Managerial Psychology, 23, 878–890.
The author would like to thank Dr. Charlotte Sutton for providing the standard deviations from her 2002 research study.
About this article
Cite this article
Twenge, J.M. A Review of the Empirical Evidence on Generational Differences in Work Attitudes. J Bus Psychol 25, 201–210 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10869-010-9165-6
- Work values
- Work ethic
- Extrinsic values