Generational differences: myth or reality? re-interpreting generational differences from a career stage perspective

2017-05-19T03:19:06Z (GMT) by Galtieri, Andrea
The concept of generational differences and the impact such differences have on the workplace has been a popular topic in recent years, generating much interest from management practitioners, academics and the media. Despite the burgeoning consultancy work and media interest, empirical research into this topic has not supported the notion of significant fixed generational differences, giving rise to questions as to how valid such generational characterisations are. The objective of this research is to explore generational difference within the context of a contemporary Australian workplace to see if and how generational diversity was perceived within that organisation and how stereotypical characterisations of generations play out in a real world setting. Characterisations related to differences in motivational drivers provide the main construct for analysis, as such representations feature heavily in both consultant and practitioner literature. The exploration and comparison of practitioner, consultant and academic literature is a key contribution of this research, providing a unique overview of and contrast between, popular and empirical literature. The review of academic literature gives rise to the introduction of an alternative construct, that of career stage, in interpreting and explaining perceived generational difference. There is a current gap in academic literature with very few studies found that explicitly link career stage with motivation. Thus this research provides a contribution towards addressing this gap and offering possible directions for future research. The method used in this research was an instrumental case study which draws upon one-on-one interviews and a quantitative survey with ten participants to provide a qualitative exploration of how generational cohort and career stage compare as explanatory factors in an individual's motivation to work. The results of this research reveal that individuals generally had a perception that they worked in a generationally diverse environment and that this had positive benefits for their team and the organisation. Exploration of motivational drivers found that even within the small sample size used, there were some patterns across all individuals in the importance they placed on some motivational factors, suggesting it is important to recognise similarities despite perceived generational boundaries. Exploring the same motivational drivers from the lens of career stage provided deeper insights. This perspective overwhelmingly found that both younger and older employees recognised the value of working within teams that comprised individuals from both early and later career stages for the benefit of both the individuals and the organisation. Career stage was seen to have an impact on motivational items particularly related to skills development and remuneration. These results suggest that this research has been successful in exploring the reality of generational diversity within a real-life work environment and the impact of that generational diversity versus career stage on motivation to work and in developing a conceptual model that could provide scope for future research on a larger scale.