Generational Differences in Work-Related Attitudes: A Meta-analysis

Abstract

Purpose

Differences among generations on a wide variety of outcomes are of increasing interest to organizations, practitioners, and researchers alike. The goal of this study was to quantitatively assess the research on generational differences in work-related attitudes and to provide guidance for future research and practice.

Design/Methodology/Approach

We conducted a meta-analysis of generational differences on three work-related criteria: job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and intent to turnover. Our review of published and unpublished research found 20 studies allowing for 18 generational pairwise comparisons across four generations (Traditionals, Baby Boomers, Generation Xers, and Millennials) on these outcomes using 19,961 total subjects.

Findings

Corrected mean differences for job satisfaction ranged from .02 to .25, for organizational commitment they ranged from −.22 to .46, and for intent to turnover the range was −.62 to .05. The pattern of results indicates that the relationships between generational membership and work-related outcomes are moderate to small, essentially zero in many cases.

Implications

The findings suggest that meaningful differences among generations probably do not exist on the work-related variables we examined and that the differences that appear to exist are likely attributable to factors other than generational membership. Given these results, targeted organizational interventions addressing generational differences may not be effective.

Originality/Value

This is the first known quantitative review of research on generational differences in the workplace.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Strauss and Howe (1991) use the term “Silent Generation” but most of the studies that were meta-analyzed used the term “Traditional” and therefore we refer to this group as “Traditional” throughout the “Results” section. The term “Mature” is also occasionally used.

  2. 2.

    “The Silent Generation” gained widespread use after it appeared in a late 1951 TIME magazine article about “today’s youth” (TIME 1951, November 5), although it may have first appeared a few years earlier. The term “Baby Boom” was first used to describe children born post World War II by Westoff (1954) in a piece on differential fertility rates. “Generation X” was first used in a book by Hamblett and Deverson (1965) to describe teenagers who were living outside of acceptable conservative mores and was popularized in Coupland's novel, Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture (Coupland 1991). The term “Millennials” appeared in various popular-press articles and was later discussed in detail in Howe and Strauss’s (2000) book, Millennials Rising.

  3. 3.

    Because of variation in start and end dates across studies, we adopted the generational assignments used by the authors of the primary studies.

  4. 4.

    Ng and Feldman (2010) reported that >90% of studies using age treated the variable as continuous and even when studies used age-range groups, they typically calculated correlations and not group differences. Similarly, our search revealed very few studies that used age-range groups to make group comparisons.

  5. 5.

    While there is no universally agreed upon criteria for the number of studies and subjects necessary for meta-analysis, several recent meta-analyses have been published with just 2–4 studies and with sample sizes in the hundreds (e.g., Tourangeau and Yan 2007).

  6. 6.

    Studies use the terms “intent to stay/remain” and “intent to quit/turnover” as indicative of the underlying construct turnover intentions. Therefore, studies examining any variation of turnover intentions were combined. Scales were reverse coded where appropriate.

  7. 7.

    As an alternate approach to dealing with single item scales, we implemented Riketta’s (2008) suggested procedure. For single item scales, he used the reliabilities imputed by Wanous and Hudy (2001), setting single-item scale reliabilities to .7. We found that the ds never varied >.02 after replacing the imputed reliabilities with .7. Because our original imputation method produced more conservative estimates, we report those results in the tables.

  8. 8.

    We use Cohen’s (1988) benchmarks when interpreting the effect sizes: .2–.3 is considered small, around .5 is considered moderate, and .8 and higher is considered a large effect.

  9. 9.

    Cross-temporal meta-analysis (CTMA) uses cross-sectional panel data to compare members of different groups at different times when they are at the same age (e.g., 18 year olds in 1960 vs. 18 year olds in 2000).

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Acknowledgments

The authors wish to thank Michael McDaniel, Jose Cortina, Allison Brown, and the anonymous reviewers for their very helpful advice, guidance, and feedback on this manuscript.

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Correspondence to David P. Costanza.

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Costanza, D.P., Badger, J.M., Fraser, R.L. et al. Generational Differences in Work-Related Attitudes: A Meta-analysis. J Bus Psychol 27, 375–394 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10869-012-9259-4

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Keywords

  • Generational differences
  • Meta-analysis
  • Job satisfaction
  • Organizational commitment
  • Intent to turnover