Talking about our generations

Elder and younger personUniversity of South Australia research has found that generational descriptors such as Gen X, Gen Y and baby boomers are losing relevance in modern workplaces comprising multicultural as well multigenerational workforces.

This is because the generational era tags and associated values of populations born in western nations do not correspond directly to populations born along the same timelines in countries with emerging economies including Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC).

With BRIC economies predicted to be the four most dominant economies across the globe by 2030, Dr Sukhbir Sandhu of UniSA’s Business School, explains why generational re-labelling would be of value to businesses and other organisations.

“Generation is a useful concept as it allows managers to make sense of bewildering complexity. Each generational cohort is assumed to demonstrate unique attitudinal and behavioural attributes,” Dr Sandhu says.

“This, in turn, allows managers to tailor organizational policies in order to effectively manage specific generational cohorts. To retain employees from boomers generation (born between 1940 – 60s) managers offer professional development activities and rewards. In contrast, Gen Y employees (born between (1980s – 2000) are committed to stay when managers offer policies tailored to support their need for freedom and flexibility.

“But our findings demonstrate that the current ‘universal generational labels’ are not applicable to the diverse generational cohorts across the globe, as they are failing to capture increasing diversity in the modern multinational and multicultural workforce.”

Dr Sandhu’s research comparatively charts a range of different generational descriptors related to different eras and events in the timelines of several different countries, with Generation Perestroika in Russia, and Generation Oppressed in Brazil overlapping with Generation X in the US.

But whereas individualism and self-esteem development are typical values associated with Gen X (born between 1960 – 80s) linked to the western era of sexual revolution and prosperity, at the same time Brazil’s Generation Oppressed has associated values of being hard working but fearful, suspicious and lacking in trust, corresponding to the era of right wing military dictatorship in that country.

“Our findings suggest that Gen Ys in India are likely to be confident, risk takers and entrepreneurial. Therefore, providing these employees with opportunities to be creative and engage in entrepreneurial activities for the organisation might be a strong motivator for them,” Dr Sandhu says.

“In the same vein, our findings suggest that for Gen Y employee in China, opportunities for engaging with technology can be a strong motivator. These important same age diversity differences are lost if managers continue to attribute US based values to Gen Ys across the globe.”

Dr Sandhu says learning to value generational cohort diversity helps organisations to create a more productive and motivated workforce, adding that companies which fail to consider the generational cohorts of workers from other countries could be at risk of jeopardizing their viability, profitability and competitiveness.

“We propose a more nuanced understanding of generations which factors in the social and cultural differences that characterize the modern workforce,” Dr Sandhu says.

Dr Sandhu will be presenting this research (which was co-authored with Professor John Benson (Monash University), Dr Saras Sastrowardoyo (UniSA) and Dr Christina Scott-Young (RMIT), at the Academy of Management in Vancouver this week (August 9).

For interviews: Dr Sukhbir Sandhu (Sukhbir.Sandhu@unisa.edu.au) office (08) 8302 0735

Media contact: Will Venn office (08) 8302 0096 email will.venn@unisa.edu.au

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