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The myth of generational differences at work

14 June 2016
Research dispels the myth of 'generational warfare'.

Laziness and narcissism are traits consistently associated with Generation Y. Dr Steven Hitchcock from the Business School, has found young professionals in the advertising industry are reluctant to see themselves in terms of generational differences. 

Laziness and narcissism are traits consistently associated with Generation Y, particularly in the workplace. New research gives space to the Gen Y and Millennial voices, too often lost in debate over generational categorisation.

Author of the research, Dr Steven Hitchcock from the University of Sydney Business School, found young professionals in the advertising industry are reluctant to see themselves in terms of generational differences, preferring to be defined by their personalities.

The research shows younger staff members don’t see the relationship they have with baby boomer colleagues as competitive.

Young people actually saw older workers as an invaluable part of the business.
Dr Steven Hitchcock

Interviewing approximately 30 young professionals in Sydney’s advertising industry, Dr Hitchcock said his doctoral dissertation contrasts with reports workplaces are divided into generational groups.

“Young professionals don’t identify with a generation, nor did they see themselves as a distinct group,” Dr Hitchcock said.

“Why would we want to ‘manage generations’ if young workers don’t see themselves that way?”

One of the participants told Dr Hitchcock behaviour is more important than generation or age: “I think it’s more about the way you present yourself and your attitudes towards the job that has more impact on anyone that age.”

Shedding the Gen Y stereotype

Averaging 27 years of age, the participants were highly aware of how others in the workplace perceived them as a generational group.

“Young people are not dupes,” Dr Hitchcock said. “Many young professionals actively and strategically chose to identify themselves as not belonging to Gen Y or Gen Z because of the stereotypes associated with these categories.”

This process is explained by another participant, who identifies herself as a maternal figure to younger colleagues: “People call me an old soul because I like to knit in my spare time.”

How Gen Y view baby boomers at work

Another trend emerging from Dr Hitchcock’s research is the lack of judgement Gen Y and Millennials directed towards other generations.

“My research showed young professionals didn’t hold antagonism about other generations. This contrasts with the narrative of ‘generational warfare’ that we see in many media reports,” Dr Hitchcock said. 

Two young work colleagues looking at a laptop, working together.

“Young people actually saw older workers as an invaluable part of the business as they know how the business works. They saw themselves as being in partnership with older people rather than being in direct competition with them.

“The young professionals I spoke to were enthusiastic about their careers and were looking to make a real difference to their workplaces, and the world.

“Ultimately, the best approach for getting to know young professionals is to have an open and honest conversation. As a manager, it can be effective to sit down with a young staff member over coffee and talk about ways they can help each other develop.”

Dr Hitchcock completed his doctoral dissertation, Generations at Work: A Phronetic Approach to Aged and Generational Scholarship, at Arizona State University. 

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