This article is the first in a 3 parts series by Cedric Borzee. It is a follow-ip of his talk at LTUK19.
1. Can we engage all generations in the learning process?
2. Generations in the learning process?
3. From Lifelong Learning to Lifelong Employability
For the first time in history we now have five generations in the workplace. This happens in a VUCA-world of turbulent change, a time where learning is more pivotal for people to stay relevant in their job than ever before.
Generational cohorts or myths?
Howe & Strauss started their research on age cohorts and generational differences in the late 80’s. Their main idea was that events, innovations and people have an impact on our environments and how we see the world. During the last decades some empirical research has indeed demonstrated differences between generations, eventhough many of these are also contradictory. Meanwhile, the mass media, popular theorists and even politicians like to use and exploit the concepts of generational cohorts and their characteristics.
Generations at work?
Studies generally focus on three main areas when addressing the question of generational differences in the workplace:
- 1. Work ethics & values
- 2. Psychological traits and how to manage changes
- 3. Perception of organization hierarchy & work environment
J.M. Twenge has been researching the topic over the last 15 years. The main outcomes of her research state that the only scientifically validated generational differences emerging are:
- Work is less central for younger compared to older employees
- Older employees have stronger work ethics compared to younger employees
- Younger employees more highly value leisure compared to older employees
- Younger employees self-report more workplaces individuality compared to older employees
An interesting aspect of her methodology is that she leverages the longitudinal study methodology (vs cross-sectional study). This implies that she looks at empirical studies that follow a single group of participants over time through multiple data collections.
And guess what… All these longitudinal studies point in the same direction: that work becomes more central in people’s lives as they age. A reminder not to confuse age and generations.
J.M Twenge’s main conclusion is that generational differences in the workplace are not as significant as they are perceived to be by many. Another interesting insight is that she hasn’t found any consistent evidence that younger workers have different abilities with or attitude towards technologies.