Friday, April 17, 2015

The Changing Workforce: A Critical Study of Multiple Generations Working Together

Mary Jane Woodward, School of Human and Organizational Development

This qualitative study examines the age-related complexities in workforce dynamics in the United States. The generational composition of the workforce is more diverse than ever before. The primary purpose of this study was to identify and evaluate multi-generational differences and similarities in values, attitudes and perceptions (in areas such as education, technology, social responsibility, employer commitment, and meaningful work) between Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) and Millennials (born 1980-1999) in the workplace. These expected differences and similarities can affect the perceptions that workers have of one another and may influence performance and productivity in the contemporary workforce. A driving theme of the study was workplace wisdom, defined as an organizational process where workers achieve extraordinary results by combining their knowledge and experience with powerful thinking. An important motivation for the research was to explore how workplace wisdom might be facilitated and grow in multi-generational workplaces.

The focus group method explored how the generational perspective of workers, socialized at different periods in time, interconnects at work. In particular, the author used thematic analysis to assess the diverse characteristics of each generation and their views about working alongside workers of other generations. Six themes emerged from the study: work expectations and perspectives, work/life balance, communication gap, age-related stereotypes, older workers/younger supervisors, and workplace wisdom. Findings suggest that there are more similarities than differences between the two cohorts in basic work values and social responsibility, but different in day-to-day workplace interactions. Included among the recommendations offered for future research is for organizational leaders to respond appropriately to align Baby Boomers’ and Millennials’ communication and mentorship skills for corporate sustainability. In addition, findings suggest that as workers progress into further adult stages of development, that accumulation may result in workplace wisdom.

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