The Evidence against Generational Stereotyping

Why basing decision making and investments on generational differences is not effective

Of all the social media topics that I’ve posted, none has had more reaction than The Degrading and Useless Practice of Generational Stereotyping. And the reaction has been overwhelmingly supportive. It seems that many are tired of the media hype and are not fans of stereotyping based on made-up age differences.

Of course, I heard from a few folks who claim the research does not support my assertions. I’ve asked them to forward the research, which very few did. The little information that was sent was self-serving opinion and/or poorly executed studies.

To set the record straight, here’s a summary of some of the research on generational stereotyping. The general conclusion is, particularly for the world of work, basing decision making and investments on generational differences is not effective. The generational stereotypes that the media promote fail to hold up to scrutiny.

A meta-analysis of review 20 published and unpublished research studies, (Costanza et al 2012)

    • “The pattern of results indicates that the relationships between generational membership and work-related outcomes are moderate to small, essentially zero in many cases. “. . . targeted organizational interventions addressing generational differences may not be effective.

A multigenerational study of 1,784 employees from organizations across 12 countries and 6 industries (IBM Institute for Business Value 2015)

    • “While there are some distinctions among the generations, Millennials’ attitudes are not poles apart from those of other employees.
    • Millennials, Gen Xers, and Baby Boomers share many workplace preferences and behavior patterns
    • Millennials place much the same weight on career goals
    • No difference across generations on what they perceive on what it takes to engage employees
    • What generations expect from their boss varies slightly but what millennials expect is not what’s typically reported in the media
    • No significant difference in reasons why generations would change jobs (The top reason is the same for al – make more money and work in a more creative, innovative environment.
    • All generations have embraced technology but see their organizations as being slow to implement

Millennials not so different when it comes to work: Survey (Liesman, CNMC 2015)

      • “Looking at the importance of six traits in a potential employer — ethics, environmental practices, work-life balance, profitability, diversity and reputation for hiring the best and the brightest — millennial preferences are just about the same as the broader population on all six.”

New LinkedIn Data on Multi-generational Learning Reveals how to Drive Engagement (LinkedIn, 2019) Tapped into over 630 million LinkedIn members globally to better understand the capabilities they have

    • All 4 generations of learners have more in common than you think
    • Gen Z and Millennials share 70% of their top 10 skills
    • Gen x and Boomers share 80% of their top 10 skills

Millennial workers want free meals and flex time. Karen Roberts, The Westchester County NY Journal News, April 5, 2015.

    • Millennials change jobs for the same reasons as other generations—for more money and a more innovative work environment

Unfairly Labeled: How Your Workplace Can Benefit from Ditching Generational Stereotypes. Jessica Kreigel, Wiley, 2016.

    • Many millennials are frustrated with the stereotypes because they are being denied positions and well-earned promotions due to misnomers about their work ethic

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