Work Values and Generational Differences Research Proposal

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Work Values and Generational Differences

A generation is defined as a body of individuals who were born and alive at approximately the same time. These individuals share similar life experiences, cultural trends and events ("Generation," 2009; Smola & Sutton, 2002). Although generations has been a topic of discourse for eighty years (Hatchmann, 2008), there is still a disagreement on the exact dates for each commonly defined generation (Sutton & Narz, 2007; Chen & Choi, 2008). Despite this continued debate, there is agreement in the qualities each generation possesses. For the first time, the workforce contains four generation. Eisner (2005), Gursoy, Maier, & Chi (2008), Armour (2007), and Hatchmann all differ on exactly the time frames of each generation, but most are close to the following statistics: Traditionalists -- the 75 million born before 1945 that comprises 10% of the workforce, Baby Boomers -- the 80 million Americans born between 1945 and 1964 who make up 45% of today's workforce, Generation X -- the 46 million born between 1965 and 1980 making up 30% of the workforce, and Generation Y (also known as Millenials, Generation Next, and the Internet Generation) -- the 76 million born post-1980 who currently make up 15% of the workforce.

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This multi-generational workforce -- Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y -- has led to an ever-changing work environment in today's modern organization (Gursoy, Maier, & Chi, 2008). Companies now are able to take advantage of the specific traits and talents the three prominent generations in the workforce today have to offer. However, with these advantages come unique challenges as well (Smola & Sutton, 2002; Chen & Choi, 2008). To most effectively and efficiently utilize the strengths of each generation, as well as ward against their disadvantages, organizations must understand the generational differences that fall into eight categories. These include: views concerning work, leadership qualities, motivation and need for achievement, work and family balance, views on authority, technology, organizational commitment, and the overriding qualities, values, styles, and patterns of each generation.

Generational Views Concerning Work:

Research Proposal on Work Values and Generational Differences Assignment

Traditionalists view work in a very Utilitarian sense, as a necessity for subsistence and because it was an expected duty. As such, they committed themselves wholly to the endeavor. They are often followers of the Protestant work ethic, with a central belief that hard work, dedication, perseverance, and frugality are necessary for salvation (Smola & Sutton, 2002). On the other hand, as a generation where anything was possible, Baby Boomers want it all and are willing to work hard to achieve it. Many do not plan on retiring (Eisner, 2005; Gursoy, Maier, & Chi, 2008). In addition, Baby Boomers are often set in their ways, making them resistant to change. They prefer hands-on experiences and are very detailed oriented (Gursoy, Maier, & Chi, 2008).

Generation X, in contrast, is less patient when it comes to their professional life than either Baby Boomers or Traditionalists. They are not so concerned with seniority, but instead believe ability and effort far outweigh the importance of seniority. Immediate recognition in the form of titles, promotions, and raises are expected. Unlike Baby Boomers, Generation X work to live as opposed to live to work. Their work is a means to enjoy their life and they will not sacrifice their life for their job (Gursoy, Maier, & Chi, 2008).

Generation Y is still learning the ropes, but have a very high level of self-confidence and esteem. They highly value professional development and often seek out mentors. This an eager to learn generation that continuously questions the status quo (Gursoy, Maier, & Chi, 2008). They have a desire for creative challenges and want to make an impact on Day 1 (Armour, 2007).

Generational Leadership Qualities:

The Traditionalists' leadership style is the most traditional of the four generations. They enjoy the hierarchy of command and typically only give information to their workers on a need-to-know basis. They take charge when in command. Decision making is very important to them. If they have doubts, Traditionalists have a tendency to do what is right (Eisner, 2005).

Baby Boomers, in contrast to the authoritarian Traditionalists, are consensus seekers but have a tendency to micromanage their workers. Although they've worked hard to climb the corporate ladder, downsizing and restructuring has meant many Baby Boomers are finding themselves not able to reap the rewards of their hard work (Eisner, 2005). They, like the Traditionalists, enjoy being in charge, and feel this is earned them for all of the long days, weekends and more they've put into their organizations (Gursoy, Maier, & Chi, 2008).

Generation Xers are excellent in developing goals and strategic planning when in leadership positions. Even those not in leadership positions often use having friends in high places as an opportunity to lead through involvement, if not title. Understanding today's organizations must be nimble to be successful, Generation X not only expects change, they demand it (Gursoy, Maier, & Chi, 2008).

Although Generation Y is still very young, their leadership styles are already coming to the surface. They believe in collective action and decision making. Leading by committee is a preference, yet this optimistic generation does not have the distrust of centralized authority that Generation X has. They have a strong will to get things done and are sure to continue to be a force to be reckoned with (Gursoy, Maier, & Chi, 2008).

Generational Differences in Motivation and Needs for Achievement:

Traditionalists receive satisfaction by a job well done (Eisner, 2005). Their underlying motivation is a sense of duty. Baby Boomers, however, are a driven generation and are motivated more by material rewards than their Traditionalist parents, with material wealth being a primary measure of their success (Eisner, 2005).

In contrast, Generation X tends to be outcome focused, for their primary motivation. This is not to say that they don't appreciate the material rewards of their hard work, but instead also seek out specific and constructive feedback. They value gaining skills rather than simply earning a job title, according to Eisner (2005). Generation X responds best to instant gratification, even when that gratification is simply positive feedback (Gursoy, Maier, & Chi, 2008).

Generation Y look for the intellectual challenge and have a strong need to succeed. They strive to make a difference and, unlike Generation X, measure their own success. Personal goals are a primary motivator as is performing meaningful work that is a betterment to the world (Eisner, 2005). This generation works best when there is strong leadership in place, with solid direction and personal contact (Gursoy, Maier, & Chi, 2008). Generation Y is the generation with a social consciousness.

Generational Differences in Work and Family Balance:

Where Traditionalists understood working long, hard hours was necessary to be successful and as a course of duty, Baby Boomers welcomed this skewing of the work and family balance. Many Baby Boomers became the stereotypical workaholics, neglecting marriages, children, and other commitments in favor of their professional lives and justifying it as providing for their families. Eisner (2005) notes that it was Generation X that would see the balance starting to slide back towards the family.

Generation X typically doesn't seek out or value the long hours their parents and grandparents put in, instead are beginning to understand that there is more to life than position and paycheck (Gursoy, Maier, & Chi, 2008). This is a generation that focuses on working effectively and efficiently -- working smarter not harder. They want flexible work hours and higher salaries for the work they do put in (Smola & Sutton, 2002). Eisner (2005) and Armour (2007) agree that Generation Y sees the pendulum swinging far to the family side of this spectrum.

Generation Y is more concerned with being good parents, contributing to society, and enjoying a full and balanced life more than any other generation to date. They want their jobs to accommodate their personal and family lives. For Generation Y, they want telecommuting options and flexibility, as well as the ability to transfer to part time positions or even temporarily leave the workforce when they have children (Eisner, 2005; Armour, 2007; Chen & Choi, 2008 ). For Generation Y, work must coexist with the personal life they want.

Generational Views Concerning Authority:

Traditionalists' views on authority, according to Eisner (2005) shows that they prefer consistency - as such, a top-down management style is most effective with this generation. As noted, they prefer a traditional, hierarchical management structure. A clear chain of command is desired. This top-down bureaucratic approach is largely based on feudalism where those at the top direct the actions of all those working below them (Gursoy, Maier, & Chi, 2008).

Baby Boomers, in contrast, typically respect authority, but also expect to be treated as equals They dislike authoritarianism (Eisner, 2005). Gursoy, Maier and Chi (2008) explain that Baby Boomers, like their Traditionalist predecessors, work well with defined hierarchy. They strive to climb that organizational ladder and expect others to respect their position within an organization, just as they respect their superiors.

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