Generational Differences in Work Values

Jean M. Twenge, San Diego State University, Stacy M. Campbell, Kennesaw State University, Brian J. Hoffman and Charles E. Lance, University of Georgia, published “Generational Differences in Work Values: Leisure and Extrinsic Values Increasing, Social and Intrinsic Values Decreasing” in the September 2010 issue of the Journal of Management.

Organizations are currently facing the retirement of many older workers and the challenge of recruiting and retaining young talent. However, few studies have empirically substantiated generational differences in work values. This study examines the work values of a nationally representative sample of U.S. high school seniors in 1976, 1991, and 2006 (N = 16,507) representing Baby Boomers, Generation X (GenX), and Generation Me (GenMe, also known as GenY, or Millennials). With data collected across time, these analyses isolate generational differences from age differences, unlike one-time studies, which cannot separate the two. Leisure values increased steadily over the generations (d comparing Boomers and GenMe = .57), and work centrality declined. Extrinsic values (e.g., status, money) peaked with GenX but were still higher among GenMe than among Boomers (d = .26). Contrary to popular press reports, GenMe does not favor altruistic work values (e.g., helping, societal worth) more than previous generations. Social values (e.g., making friends) and intrinsic values (e.g., an interesting, results-oriented job) were rated lower by GenMe than by Boomers. These findings have practical implications for the recruitment and management of the emerging workforce.

Talya Bauer, Outgoing Editor of the Journal of Management, and Jean M. Twenge, lead author, discuss the results of the study in this podcast.

Looking back on the article and podcast, we asked Dr. Twenge to share a few thoughts.

Since this article was published, I’ve had the opportunity to speak to several groups of executives about the results. The data seem to resonate with what they are seeing in their workplaces, with more requests for flextime and time off from GenMe/Gen Y. Some are surprised to hear that altruistic values are not higher (and are even a little lower) among the young generation, as they’d heard elsewhere that this generation was higher in those values. But even these data seem to be consistent with what they experience in the workplace. Overall, many are excited to see empirical support for their own experiences. In the future, my colleagues and I would like to see if work values have changed during the recession years, and we’re looking at that right now.

Dr. Twenge published the book, “Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans are More Confident , Assertive, Entitled- And More Miserable Than Ever Before” in April 2006. More information about her book and other publications can be found here.

For more information about the Journal of Management, please click here.

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