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New academic exchanges on generational theory

by on October 13, 2015

The September Issue of Industrial and Organizational Psychology is host to a series of debates on generational theory, its usefulness and appropriateness for organisations.

The debate centres around a focal article by Costanza and Finkelstein  which summarises critiques of generational theory that readers of this blog will probably be familiar with.  It offers a useful summary of these issues which is illustrated by extracts and examples from popular media and organisations to demonstrate the concerns over stereotypes.

There are too many responses to summarise here but several of the articles in this issue mount a spirited defence of various aspects and approaches to researching generations at work.

To my reading it is rather frustrating that the original article does not offer a substantive analysis of the representation of generations in the popular media and organisational documents.  In our own research (see for example our recent paper in Organization Studies available via ORO) the way in which generational labels and stereotypes are enacted and replicated are, we believe, worthy of academic investigation in their own right.  From such investigation we can start to unpack the issues that these generational stereotypes raise and start to consider whether the use of these labels might result in more more harm than good.  The ‘usefulness’ of generational theory needs to be clearly challenged in terms of the way it is being used and by whom.

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