The literature on generational differences in work values Essay Example

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Generational differences in work values


Being aware of employee behaviour and inspiration and hence work values is of vital importance for managers and organizational development experts in their attempt to maximize human potential while minimizing related risk (Spector, 2003). Of greater importance is how to control and work with employees from differing generational groups since their work values and hence attitude may greatly differ according to Grossman (2005). Workplace generation group have been termed as distinct group that shares years of birth and hence age, location as well as momentous life occasions at critical stages of development as stated by Kuperschmidt (2000). The differing experiences distinguish a generation from the other while helping define their feeling toward work and value towards work (Kuperschmidt, 2000). Fvock (1990) states that owing to the generational differences in work ethics, interaction between different generations in the workplace can frequently lead to misapprehensions and difficulties in communication. This is the essence of studying generational work values in a bid to develop an understanding of how to deal with differing generations in the workplace thus improving communication and hence output and job satisfaction. This paper is a literature review on generational differences in the work place with an aim of getting a better understanding on how differing generational groups in the work place view work.

According to Kessler et al (2005), the contemporary organization’s workforce may consist of individuals from four generations including the silent generation, the boomers, generation X and generation me (millennials). The groups exhibit varying generational dissimilarities in character traits, mental health, attitudes and behaviour and hence work values with generation X and Millennials being more individualistic and self-focused (Wells and Twenge, 2005). The dissimilarities in work ethics among the various generations can be clustered along attitudes regarding work, employee- employer loyalty, respect and authority, training styles and needs, need for work/life balance and supervision among others as stated by Needleman (2008). These differences are clearly analyzed in this paper.

A great deal of literature exists on generational differences and similarities on attitudes towards work. Jenkins (2007) for instance states that the apparent weakening in work ethic is among the main sources of work place generational conflicts where generation X has for example been termed as the slacker generation. This has seen increased complains from employers regarding younger workers being uncommitted to work only working for the required hours and no more. Boomers on the other hand are seen as workaholics and the silent generations being labeled as hardworking leading to a stereotype that younger workers are lazy and fail to work as hard as older generations (Jenkins, 2007). However, this is debatable. For instance, a research by Samola and Sutton (2002) involving two groups of between 27 and 40 years and 41 and 65 years showed that both groups were of the idea that it is of little importance for the worker to be proud in their work both in 1974 and 1999 when the research was carried out. Furthermore, the research indicated that older generations had a less idealized opinion of work than did young workers. Similarly, Tang and Tzeng (1992) find that reported work ethics decreased with increase in age with younger employees reporting stronger work values in comparison with older workers. A research by Mitchell (2001) indicated that 44% of generation X would opt to spend additional time at work compared to 23% of all generations meaning that younger workers are more willing to work. According to Tang and Tzeng (1992), factors other than generation including education level, amount of time worked, income level and marital status also have a greater impact on work ethics which may explain the differing findings by the researchers.

Generational differences in work values also regard loyalty towards the employer. According to Karp et al (2002) for instance states that the silent and boomers are characterized by extreme loyalty towards their employers while the millennials are characterized by lack of loyalty often having relationships with their fellow workers that are above their connection with their employer. In addition, millennials see constantly changing jobs as a lawful strategy of career advancement as stated by Bova and Kroth (2001). In a research, Deal (2007) found that loyalty towards employers decrease or increase depending on the generation in question. According to the research, younger generations are less loyal compared to older ones with the research finding that 70% of silent were loyal to their employer compared to 65% of boomers, 40% of generation X and 20% of millennials. According to Kopfer (2004), this may be so since as one gets older, they would prefer stability. Samola and Sutton (2002) also find that younger generations appear less loyal to their companies and are increasingly “me” oriented yearning for quicker promotion than older generations. Younger generations are also less likely to view work as a vital component of their life and have bigger intent to quit job were they to win large amount of cash (Karp, et al, 2002). Though loyalty towards work may be context dependent, Deal (2007) is of the view that older generations are more loyal than millennials.

Another aspect of work values that differ across different generations is attitude towards respect and authority. O’Bannon (2001) states that millennials are more likely to complain about know it all executives who overlook ideas from them and have a you must do it since I told you attitude. They also complain of disrespect towards them in the place of work with older workers complaining about the same attitude by younger generation workers. A research by Deal (2007) on the attitudes of various generations towards authority found that 13 percent of older generations viewed authority as a top ten value in comparison to 5 percent of boomers and 6% of generation X and millennials respectively suggesting older generations value authority more than other generations. Regarding how different generations interrelate with authority as opposed to how the way they act when they are exercising authority, Joyner (2000) notes that members of generation X and millennials are contented with those in authority and not intimidated by them unlike older generations. Unlike older generations, Xers and Millennials hold that respect has to be earned and have no believe in unquestionable respect. Similarly, Deal (2007) states that only a few millennials feel the need to exert authority. Miller and Yu (2003) state that though all generations want to be respected, their view of respect differs with older generations wanting to have their opinions considered in decision making given they are more experienced and for employees to follow instructions as opposed to workers from younger generations who want to be listened to more . According to Deal (1997), older generations desire to be accorded more respect than younger employees with less experience would be given meaning that meeting anticipations of respect which different generations embrace may be challenging in the work place.

Deal (2007) notes that different generations have different preferred learning styles for soft and hard skills. Lyons (2004) states that while Xers and millennials prefer learning both soft and hard skills on the job, majority of silent and baby boomers desire to acquire soft skills on the job while learning hard skills by way of classroom contact. For instance, Close (2005) conducted a research that indicated groups of discussion as the next method of preference for acquiring soft skills by the silent and boomers while it is the fifth choice for generation X and third option for millennials. Getting assessment and feedback was a popular option for acquiring soft skills by Xers while old generations did not seem to desire feedback. However, Deal (2007) states that the various generations have comparable top methods of learning for hard skills though methods for individual members may vary. Different generations also differ as far as perceived training needs are concerned. For instance, the silent and boomers prefer skills acquisition in their areas of know-how most while millennials and other younger generations prefer training in leadership. In addition, acquisition of computer knowledge is an apparent training need for silent and boomers although this does not apply for Xers and millennials. According to Kersten (2004), both silent and Xers generations desire training in team building as well as problem solving.

Younger generations such as millennials are generally associated with desiring balance between life and work as stated by Karp et al (2002). This is attributed to the fact that millennials have experiences of their parents losing their jobs notwithstanding having made career sacrifices and hence have grown to value work life balance as stated by Kersten (2004). In a research, Mitchel (2001), 45% of employees aged between 18 and 24, 37% of employees aged between 25 and 34 and 34% of workers of all generations showed that though they valued work, they also valued their lives and hence there had to be a balance. The research does indicate that the youngest generations value the work life balance the most and would never allow work to interfere with their lives with only 37 percent of millennials letting work interfere with their normal lives compared to 54% of employees in all generations. This according to Ranstand Work Solutions (2007), confirms that younger workers value life work balance than the rest although members of other age groups have varying preferences of work life balance. Differences in work values across generations also differ as far as supervision is concerned. Joyner (2000) states that though young generation workers are assumed to dislike being micromanaged, they also value strong leadership which gives clear instructions. In their study that compared millennials, boomers and silent working in the working sector, Jurkiewicz and Brown (1998) found boomers to value freedom from being supervised more than millennials though no much difference was observed for other generations. According to Joyner, workers from different generations differ in their desire for feedback with younger generations requiring constant feedback while older generation workers may feel insulted by it. Workers from different generations also differ in terms of their view on what brings success in one’s career as well as their desired leadership attributes. For the silent, one has to meet deadlines so as to be successful in the workplace while younger generations such as millennials believe that use of computers leads to success according to Randstad Work Solutions (2007). On the other hand, silent prefer a leader who has credibility with younger generations preferring a leader who listens well as stated by Deal (2007).


This paper has looked at the available literature on generational dissimilarities in work ethics. It is worth noting that while differences across generations may exist, the differences are mainly context or age dependent as opposed to generation traits. Similarities also exist across generations with for example generations sharing similar apprehensions on change, reasons to stay in a company, values as well as desired model of communication as stated by Deal (2007). Every worker regardless of their generations would want freedom of setting their own hours as long as work is carried out and hence this may not be a inclination for the young generations only (Kersten, 2002). Fairness is also viewed as the most important aspect of the workplace culture across the generations as well as feeling valued, recognized and appreciated. Based on Ranstad Work Solutions (2006), all generations also want to be in a supportive work environment which inspire happiness. Thus, it may be concluded that generation dissimilarities may not be obvious in the workplace the way popular literature postulates according to Jurkiewicz and Brown (1998). For example, all generations are concerned about social corporate responsibility, leisure time and all want to exercise leadership while having friendly and congenial associates (Deal, 2007). According to Joyner (2000), workers across generations also desire a good salary as well as status while making contribution to vital decisions. In addition, Deal (2007) states that it is the desire for every worker regardless of their generation to have a stable and secure future, have variety in work tasks while working as a team member. Thus, it may be concluded that while a great deal of literature exists on generational differences in work values, a lot of similarities also exist.


Bova, B&, Kroth, M2001, Workplace learning and generation X, Journal of Workplace Learning, vol. 13, pp. 57-65.

Close, L2005, Recruiting generation Y, London, Rutledge.

Deal, J2007, Retiring the generation gap: How employees young and old can find common ground, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Fvock, C1990, America’s workforce is coming of age, Lexington Books: Toronto.

Grossman, L2005, Grow up? Not so fast, Time, vol. 3, pp. 38-46.

Jenkins, J2007, Leading the four generations at work, Retrieved on 13th August 2017, from;

Joyner, T2000, Gen Xers focus on life outside the job fulfilment: The secured lender May/Jun, Retrieved on 13th August 2017, from;


Jurkiewicz, C&, Brown, G1998, GenXers vs boomers vs. matures: Generational comparisons of public employee motivation, Review of Public Personnel Administration, vol. 18, pp. 18- 37.

Karp, H., Fuller, C., &Sirias, D2002, Bridging the boomer Xer gap, Creating authentic teams for high performance at work, Palo Alto, CA: Davies Black Publishing

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Kessler, R, Berglund, P, Demler, O, Jin, R, Merikangas, K&, Walters, E2005, Lifetime prevalence and age-of onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the national comorbidity survey replication, Archives of General Psychology, vol. 77, pp. 261-271.

Kopfer, D2004, Workplace attitudes of generation X, M.A Thesis.

Kuperschmidt, B2000, Multigenerational employees: Strategies for effective management, The Health Care Manager, vol. 19, pp. 65-76.

Lyons, S2004, An exploration of generational values in life and at work, Dissertation Abstracts International.

Miller, P&, Yu, H2003, Organizational values and generational values: A cross cultural study, Australasian Journal of Business & Social Equity, vol. 1, no. 3, pp. 138-153.

Mitchell, S2001, Generation X: Americans aged 18 to 34, Ithaca, NY: New Strategist Publications.

Needleman, S2008, The latest office perk: Getting paid on volunteer, Wall Street Journal.

O’Bannon, G2001, Managing our future: The generation X factor, Public Personnel Management, vol. 30, pp. 50-109.

Rath, D1999, Bridging the generation gap, InfoWorld, vol. 21, pp. 84.

Samola, K&, Sutton, C2002, Generational differences: Revisiting generational work values for the new millennium, Journal of Organizational Behaviour, vol. 23, pp. 363-382.

Spector, P2003, Industrial and organizational psychology: Research and practice, Florida, John Willey.

Tang, T&, Tzeng, L1992, Demographic correlates of the protestant work ethic, Journal of Psychology, vol. 126, pp. 163-170.

Wells, B&, Twenge, J2005, Changes in young people’s sexual behaviour and attitudes, 1943- 1999: A cross-temporal meta-analysis, Review of General Psychology, vol. 9, pp. 249- 261.


Organizations should design their wellness initiatives around the needs of particular generations

Arising from the essay above, I agree that organizations should design their wellness initiatives around the needs of particular generations. This is because the various generations that we have in the work place today differ a lot as far as work place values are concerned. The different generations for instance differ in their attitude towards work, loyalty towards the employer, attitude regarding respect and authority, training styles and training needs, desire for better work/life balance, attitudes towards supervision among other areas. This means that the different generations would also differ in their wellness needs and hence such initiatives ought not to be a one size fits all kind of a thing. Furthermore, even if the wellness initiatives were to be a one size fits all kind of a thing, their acceptability to all the concerned generations would not be assured. This is because while the older generations may not have a problem with wellness initiatives designed by the management without their input, the millennials on the other hand may feel that the management has imposed things on them and this would result in them failing to embrace the initiatives meaning that such initiatives may fail to bear the fruits the management initially envisages and hence this may render the efforts useless.

In order for wellness initiatives to be accepted across the board by all the generations in the workplace, I feel that there should be involvement of every generation which would enable the management identify the needs of particular generation so that such needs are incorporated in the initiatives such that no one is left behind. Another important aspect to consider in designing the wellness initiatives ought to be the communication needs of particular generations. I feel that lack of communication may make the initiatives to fail although the management may have had the best intentions for their entire workforce. This is because generational conflict will most likely come from perception and errors of attribution as opposed to valid differences. Thus, even if we catered for the needs of every generation and one generation for instance the millennials felt that things were being imposed on them and that they were not involved in the entire process, they will not embrace the initiatives. However, where everyone is involved with proper communication, then the initiatives are likely to succeed. It is also worth noting that particular generations have varying wellness needs meaning that these ought to be incorporated in the wellness program if the program is to be successfully implemented and bear the intended fruits. Many of the people I have interacted with agree that millennials wellness initiatives ought to be centered on healthy living since their lifestyles may most likely expose them to lifestyle related health problems. However, this may not be a major problem with the old generations and hence their wellness initiatives should differ as they are most likely suffering from old age and midlife crisis. Thus based on the above, I think that organizations ought to incorporate the needs of particular generations in designing wellness initiatives for their employees.