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Generation Y no different to Baby Boomers

It was while working for a call centre with a predominantly young workforce that Massey University PhD graduate Kristin Murray hit upon the subject for her thesis.

A major challenge for her employer was whether the ‘Y’ generation (those born after 1980) staff should be managed differently from their Generation X cohorts.

Her employer said that the issue was appropriate for a doctorate thesis.

That was many years ago.

Dr Murray, as her title suggests, has obtained her PhD and is currently employed as Executive Manager (People and Capability) of Wellington Free Ambulance.

“I started with many of the usual preconceptions, especially about Generation Y. There were issues such as inappropriate dress and punctuality. Many employees needed constant feedback and praise,” she said.

More similarities

Dr Murray expected to find discernable differences in the attitudes of Veterans, Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1963), Generation X and Generation Y, but found a different scenario.

“”I was surprised to learn that there are more similarities than differences between the generational cohorts,” she said.

Her study included a questionnaire based on a series of in-depth interviews during which the respondents were asked to describe the factors that made a job ideal.

Dr Murray found a few remarkable similarities in what all the groups sought in an ideal job. Job satisfaction and job fulfilment were among the top-rated values for all groups, as were people-focused statements such as ‘good rapport with colleagues,’ ‘enjoy the people I work with’ and ‘supportive team’.

Dr Murray said that managers should ignore the stereotypes associated with each of the generational cohorts and approach each employee as an individual.

Media hype

“Baby Boomers are demographically significant and therefore I could see that it is a useful planning tool to identify this large group of people coming through; but in many ways, terms like ‘Generation X’ and ‘Generation Y’ are just labels.

“People do not necessarily think of themselves as belonging to a generation. Therefore, these terms are not based on rigorous research but are just labels used by the media because they are catchy and make good anecdotal stories,” she said.

Understanding values

According to Dr Murray, a better approach is to understand each person’s values.

“While a younger person may behave differently to an older person at work, what they value might not be as different as you think. Companies will get the best results from staff if they look at needs on an individual basis.

“And when considering programmes, it would be useful to implement policies for everyone instead of trying to target the needs of a particular generational cohort,” Dr Murray said.

Photo : Dr Kristin Murray

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