Labels like Generation X and Y are losing their value in relation to managing increasingly multicultural and global workforces, according to new research.
Generational labels are regularly used to make sense of complexity in the workforce, but new research suggests this might jeopardise organisational viability, profitability and effectiveness.
CIPS member Christina Scott-Young and her colleagues, John Benson (Monash), Sukhbir Sandhu and Saras Sastrowardoyo (UniSA), found that companies must recognise national culture’s impact on generational diversity in order to create a more productive and motivated workforce.
Present practice assumes that each generation demonstrates unique attitudinal and behavioural attributes, allowing managers to tailor organisational policies to effectively manage specific generational groups. However, the new research found that the generational attributes of people born in Western nations do not correspond with populations born in the same era in developing nations such as Brazil, Russia, India and China.
For example, to motivate and retain Australian Generation Y employees (born 1980–2000), managers typically follow Western advice to support their need for freedom and flexibility. In contrast, Generation Y employees from India are more confident risk takers and therefore are more likely to be motivated by participating in creative and entrepreneurial workplace activities. Different again, Chinese Generation Y employees are more likely to be motivated by opportunities to engage with new technology. Therefore, Australian, Indian and Chinese Generation Y employees in the same firm are likely to be motivated by different factors, despite their age similarity.
National differences were also found in the values and attitudes of older generations of employees (i.e. Generation X and Baby Boomers).
The research concluded that while each country has its own distinct generations, generational values and attitudes are not universal; they are culturally specific.
If managers continue to attribute Western-based values to same-aged generations from across the globe, the ability to manage in relation to important employee differences will be lost.
The researchers argue that in order to be fully productive, companies must adopt a more comprehensive understanding of generations, factoring in the social and cultural differences that characterise the modern multicultural workforce.
This research was presented at the Academy of Management in Vancouver in August 2015 and was published as a chapter in The Multi-generational and Aging Workforce: Challenges and Opportunities (Edward Elgar Publishing, 2015).