Multigenerational differences in work attributes & motivation: an empirical study.

AuthorDokadia, Afsha
PositionReport - Statistical data

This study empirically examines the differences in work attributes and intrinsic and extrinsic motivation among four generations (baby boomers, silent generation, generation X & generation Y). Data was collected with the help of an online questionnaire from working executives. Total sample consists of 653 respondents working in different public and private organizations. Data was factor analyzed and AN OVA was carried out followed by Post hoc analysis wherever applicable. Results indicate that generation y prefers to work individually and seeks instant feedback in comparison to the older generation. There is no difference in the preference of workplace flexibility among the four generations. Intrinsic motivation is higher in Silent generation and extrinsic motivation is higher in generation Y.


Generation as a construct has been studied by scholars from various academic fields. Social psychologists have been interested in understanding the various socio-psychological influences that shape generational attitudes and behaviors. Some scholars like Giancola (2006) suggest that "generational approach may be a more popular culture than social science", yet generational studies have a long and distinguished place in the social sciences. Scholars have attempted to search for the unique and distinctive characteristics of generations for several decades now. In the last decade management scholars have tried to demystify generational attitudes, values, behaviors, (Gibson et al., 2011) motivators and their effect on team work, learning orientation (D'Amato & Herzfeldt, 2008), retention policies (Gabriel, 1999), leadership expectations, and organizational policies at large (Westerman & Yamamura., 2007).

Academic research and industry experiences unanimously advocate the need for deeper understanding of generational differences at the workplace. Since long, generations have been attached with specific attributes. While some of these have been rooted in cultural stereotypes or anecdotal evidence (Macky, Gardner & Forsyth, 2008), substantial research has revealed age or generation related trends and characteristics. In addition, research also suggests that generational diversity has an impact on employees' work-related attributes and interpersonal interactions (Pitt-Catsouphes & Matz-Costa, 2008). Studies suggest that employers or managers should provide their employees appropriate opportunities and recognition according to their needs, and create a work environment that fosters productivity in every generation (Saunderson, 2009; Macon & Artley, 2009). In addition, it is also suggested that managers must provide adequate information and skills to their employees to enable them to understand the generational characteristics of their co-workers, to foster better understanding, communication and teamwork among employees (Kapoor & Solomon, 2011; Macon & Artley, 2009). Thus, it has been repeatedly emphasized in the existing literature that effectively handling generational difference in the workforce is one of the biggest challenges faced by managers today (Lester, Standifer, Schultz & Windsor, 2012).

Generational Theory

Generational theory proposed by Karl Mannheim (1928) postulates that people belonging to the same age group who witness common, crucial, socio political and historical events during developmental stages of their life form generational group Kupperschmidt (2000). This definition draws special attention to a shared or collective field of emotions, attitudes, and preferences which have an impact on work place attributes. Mannheim further emphasizes that generations is a localized concept and that socio-economic changes occurring in one country effect the generations of that particular country only. This generational localization unifies individuals belonging to a particular generational group within the framework of the same socio-historical context. Based on this understanding, Indian scholars have proposed four generational groups in India. Based on phases of economic development, Srinivasan (2012) suggests four different employee generations who started working during or before liberalization in India. The four generations are: Pre Liberalization (started working before 1991), Early Liberalization (1991-2001), Rapid Growth (2002-2006) and Plateaued Growth (2007-2012). Tamara Erickson, one of the top 50 global thinkers of 2011, and leading expert on multi-generation, proposed a four-group classification that was temporally similar to the American classification, but was based on the Indian socio-cultural history (Erickson, 2009). Later, Roongremgsuke (2010) proposed a similar classification. According to both these authors the four generations in India are: Traditionalists (born during 1928-45), Baby Boomers (born during 1946-64) generation X (born during 1965-80) and generation Y (born during 1981-95) Similarly, Hole, Zhong, & Schwartz (2010) suggested three generations: the traditional (1948-1968), the nontraditional (1969-1980), and generation Y (1981 onwards). This was in line with the work of Ghosh & Chaudhari (2009) who identified the three generations existing in India as the conservatives, integrators and Y2K. Based on analysis of earlier studies, the current study classifies employee workforce into four different generation (box 1); baby boomers (19451965), silent generation (1966-1976), generation X (1977-1984) and generation Y (1985-2001). Our study utilizes international generational labels for convenience sake. Box 1 elaborates on few key formative events of these generational groups.

Work-related Attributes

Box 1 Generations in India: Critical Influences Birth Year Alternative Names Socio Political Influences 1945-65 Pre-Liberalization, Resurgence of India from colonial Mid Night Children, Raj, Growth of educational Baby Boomers institutions, Saw wars and famine. Era of Nehru and Shastri, Joint Families 1966-1976 Early Liberalization, Indo- Pak war, Emergency in 1970, Social Revolution and formation of Janta party. generation, No Operation Harit Kranti, Milk Vacancy Generation, Flood, etc Silent Generation 1977-1988 Rapid Growth, Assassination of Indira Gandhi, EMI Generation, Sikh Genocide, First Non Congress Gen X party coming to power, Mandal Commission, Bofors Scam, Rajiv Gandhi becoming prime minister. Nuclear Families; Hum do Hamare Do 1987-2001 Plateaued Growth, Rajiv Gandhi assassination, Babri Millennial, Gen Y Masjid riots and Bomb blast, Godhra Incidences, India shining campaign, Standard of living enhanced, India winning 20-20 world cup. Double Income Single Kid Birth Year Economic Influences Technological Influences 1945-65 Closed economy, Public Development based on sector dominance, Growth borrowed technology from rate of 3% international partners. Excessive spending on heavy industries 1966-1976 Hindu Rate of Growth, Closed Nascent stage of economy, License Raj, heavy technological development. spending on social programs Advent of telephones 1977-1988 India at the brink of being Advent of Television, bankrupt. Slow economic beginning of IT revolution development. in India 1987-2001 Economic liberalization, Technology as a privatizations of public differentiator between haves sector organizations and and have not's. Advent of opening up of Indian Markets Internet, Mobiles, Smart for MNC's heightened growth phones. rate at 8% Substantial research evidence suggests that generational diversity has an impact on every aspect of the workplace one of them being their approaches to work, or work-related attributes (Kapoor & Solomon, 2011; Gursoy, et al., 2013). Researchers suggest that these characteristics affect employees' expectations related to their work (Dencker, Joshi, & Martocchio, 2008) and shape employee interactions (Gursoy, et al., 2013). Macon & Artley (2009) suggest that these differences influence vital areas such as teamwork, communication, and training, due to which it is imperative for managers to have a clear understanding of the complex nature of generational influences. Furthermore, a major cause of concern for managers is that these differences could lead to intra-generational conflicts in the workplace (Gursoy, et al., 2013). This highlights the need to examine these differences closely, to enable managers and employers to consider them during planning and implementation of company policies. Different studies have highlighted different characteristics of generations. We examine here the current literature specifically focusing on three work-related attributes viz., teamwork preference, feedback preference and work place flexibility preference.

Teamwork Preference

Typically, teams consist of employees from different backgrounds and experiences, as well as age and work experience. These unique traits of individuals affect the way in which people work with one another (Macon & Artley, 2009). For instance, research has found that generation X and generation Y are more individualistic and independent as compared to Baby Boomers (Sirias, et al., 2007). Similarly, Patterson...

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