Employers Must Not Disregard Generational Differences in the Workplace, Says Study

As organizations seek to optimize the work environment and policies for multigenerational workforces, it's important to explore whether generational differences are actually relevant, according to INSEAD Emerging Markets Institute’s the Brave New Workplace, the first of three new Generations Series eBooks, in collaboration with Universum, The HEAD Foundation and MIT Leadership Center.

Growing up digital, say some, has so influenced younger generations that it somehow gives them a permanently different outlook than their older peers.

Gen X calls Gen Y the Peter Pan Generation, saying they cling to childhood even as adults. While millennials characterize their Gen X peers as nihilistic and disdainful. Neither has fully formed their opinions about Gen Z, who are on the cusp of entering the workforce.

“Regardless of opinion about the members of this age group, the inclusion of Gen Z in to the labor market will initiate a new era in workplace culture, their presence will disrupt the nature of work as we know it today and therefore understanding the new multigenerational workforce must not be treated as an afterthought,” said Universum CEO, Petter Nylander.

He continued “Gen Z are set to account for around 20% of the adult workforce by 2020, knowing how to harmonize and steer a workplace that includes these three generations should be a top priority for any employer.”


The research questions these generalizations. Are younger generations truly so different? Or is it possible that as they age and gain experience at work, they begin to behave a lot like their older peers?

Based on a survey of over 18,000 students and professionals from 19 countries – spanning Gen Xers who’ve been in the workplace for two decades to Gen Z students – the study shares data about preferred work styles, leadership qualities, and hopes and fears about future careers.

“Today’s workplace is an interesting assortment of multigenerational values, approaches to technology, leadership styles and workplace preferences,” said Henrik Bresman, Associate Professor of Organisational Behavior; Academic Director, INSEAD Global Leadership Centre; Senior Advisor, The HEAD Foundation.

“Through this global study spanning the three generations, we seek to understand how each group can best be motivated, managed, led and encouraged to lead, for optimal results.”

He continued “This study shows that as far as the need to identify with a company’s culture and values, there is no perceptible difference between the three generations. On the other hand, in terms of whether they have an optimistic or pessimistic outlook towards their work, there is a clear generational divide.”

Vinika D. Rao, Executive Director of INSEAD Emerging Markets Institute, added “One dimension that demonstrates both a clear generational divide as well as a geographical one is the aspect of challenges that women face at work.

“Organizations therefore need to avoid ‘overgeneralisations’ such as blanket initiatives targeting women. Managing a multigenerational, diverse workforce entails a careful study of how workplace measures are perceived by different employees.” 

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