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Actual Versus Perceived Generational Differences within the Contemporary Workforce

Grieve, Aaron (2020) Actual Versus Perceived Generational Differences within the Contemporary Workforce. Masters thesis, Dublin, National College of Ireland.

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The concept of grouping individuals into distinct generational cohorts such as Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y, and now more recently, Generation Z, is not an uncommon one. It is often an attractive way to describe groups of individuals, similar to other forms of social categorisation via stereotypes and presumptions (Lyons et al., 2015). Generational theory first originated in the early 20th century through the writings of Hungarian born sociologist, Karl Mannheim (McCourt, 2012; Remmling, 1961). Ever since, this theory has been revisited by various academic fields and has expanded into the discourse of contemporary culture with over 208,000,000 hits found on Google as of 2020 (Delaney, 2018; Demartini, 1985; Roskin, 1974). By natural extension there has been an increase in academic papers examining the differences between generational cohorts and its impact on work outcomes.
However, much of the literature surrounding generational cohort theory can be split into three camps, those who are proponents of Mannheim’s original theory and its role in day to day interactions (Lyons et al., 2015). Others, however, see no value in continued research, going so far to call for a moratorium on further research due to several study flaws and weak theoretical underpinnings which can be better substituted for other frameworks (Rudolph, Rauvola and Zacher, 2018; Costanza and Finkelstein, 2015). Finally, others appear to engage in academic research, ignorant of the broader academic discussion, overlooking the relationship of generations as a possible extension of established social theories (Schroth, 2019; Stewart et al., 2017; Ahn and Ettner, 2014; Sidanius et al., 2004; Tajfel, 1974). Regardless of the veracity of generational cohort theory, such academic research has contributed to the creation and perpetuation of stereotypes and misconceptions found in popular press articles and business management advice (Espinoza and Ukleja, 2016; Fromm and Garton, 2013).
With more generations in the workplace than ever before, with the addition of the youngest cohort, Generation Z, this paper intends to build on the academic literature by replicating a 2012 study which sought to discern whether actual differences exist between generational cohorts in relation to work outcomes or if perceptual differences instead of actual differences were more common (Burton et al., 2019; Lester et al., 2012). To achieve this, using non-probability convenience sampling, a cohort of 249 individuals ranging from Generation Z to Baby Boomers were surveyed by asking how much they valued 15 unique work items and then asking how much they believed other generations valued the same work items. Using multivariate analysis and pairwise comparisons it was found that actual differences relating to some work items; autonomy, professionalism, technology, continuous learning, and fun at work, do appear to exist. However, compared to the five actual differences identified, forty perceived differences to work items were also found indicating that perceived differences outnumber actual differences.
The above results are also discussed in relation to the broader academic literature, taking into account the role of social identity theory and the Lifespan Developmental Perspective framework (Van Rossem, 2019; Rudolph et al., 2018; Weeks et al., 2017). However, the main implications of the findings show that perceived differences between generational cohorts are prevalent and have the potential of leading to stereotypes between individuals at work, ultimately risking prejudicial and discriminatory behaviour often seen with other forms of social categorisation such as age, gender or race (Potter et al., 2019; Cunningham, 2007). It is recommended that managers and professionals alike remember that individuals from different generations are more alike than different to encourage best practices, collaboration and interaction amongst employees. Finally, it is hoped this paper adds to the evidence that there is a danger in academic research continuing to make declarative statements without considering the role of perceptual differences or the broader research so as not to continue the propagation of stereotypes, especially for Generation Z who are just entering the workforce.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor > HD28 Management. Industrial Management > Human Resource Management > Equal Opportunity in Employment
H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor > HD28 Management. Industrial Management > Human Resource Management
H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor > Issues of Labour and Work > Older Workers
Divisions: School of Business > Master of Business Administration
Depositing User: Dan English
Date Deposited: 17 Feb 2021 18:20
Last Modified: 17 Feb 2021 18:20

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