"There is no shortage of books, articles and conference presentations warning HR professionals about the seriousness of generational conflicts at work," Frank Giancola tells us in his recent article "The generation gap: more myth than reality" published for Human Resource Planning (December 2006, Volume 29, Issue 4, Page 32) , the journal of the Human Resource Planning Society.
Is the concept of conflict between generations in the workplace - where generational consultants advise us that we are facing, for the first time in history, four very different generations being asked to work side by side - really more fad than fact? That's the conclusion Frank came to after researching the topic extensively.
After an in-depth review of available literature, he summarizes the major issues with the notion of generational conflict as follows:
1. Research does not fully support the assumptions of generational theory, and advocates admit its shortcomings. The assumption that individuals are more impressionable earlier in life is supported, but the assumptions that the core personality does not change and that all generation members experience the same early events in the same way are not fully supported.
2. Sociologists have noted the concept's limited applicability to minorities, recent immigrants, and women.
3. Research by generational proponents is not published in academic journals, an indication to experts that the concept is a fad, lacking long-term value.
4. The number of generations in the workplace is overstated for some employers, because the Silent Generation accounts for only 5 percent of the workforce and the Generation Y had its first members graduating from college in 2004.
5. Agreement is lacking on the number of and birth periods for the generations. Some experts assert there are five generations based on an anomalous group that does not match the Silent and Baby Boomer profiles; and some claim that the first year of the Baby Boomer period should be determined by the number of annual births, rather than historical events.
6. Baby Boomer personality profiles are oversimplified. One reason is the last members of this generation were born as the earliest reached adulthood, resulting in vastly different exposures to the historical events that define this generation.
7. Intergenerational conflict in the workplace lacks independent verification and appears to be exaggerated. Recent research shows that older workers do not resent their younger supervisors and that the generations are working in harmony to capitalize on their diversity.
8. Factors that motivate the generations are surprisingly similar. For example, employees in all age groups have similar levels of, and key drivers for, engagement.
9. Recent trends in our society, such as the rapidly increasing numbers of Hispanic workers and nontraditional career choices for men and women, have created a workforce with such diversity that global concepts, such as generation, which tend to oversimplify the workforce, contribute little to understanding its complexity.
In conclusion, Frank tells us that the "considerable information from respected organizations, demographers and sociologists" that he reviewed after compiling independent research and opinion "raises doubts about the concern and the validity" of generational conflict theory". He ends by saying:
All of this should give HR professionals good reasons to regard the generation gap as idea that is more myth than reality, so they can focus on the real talent management issues of the 21st century.