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Are generation X the UK’s hardest workers?

by on February 23, 2016

We have been busy chatting to HR Magazine again, this time responding to a recent survey by Workfront which offers research into generational differences.

As the article explains we had some concerns about the survey and its findings:

“Katrina Pritchard, senior lecturer in organisation studies at The Open University Business School, warned of the danger of conflating generation with age groups. “Are millennials now behaving differently to the way generation X did when they were the same age?” she asked.

Pritchard was also concerned that a study of this type might reveal more about which stereotypes persist in the office rather than the reality of the situation. “You risk people thinking that all 55- to 65-year-olds behave like that, so therefore they think they know what the next person they meet in that age group would be like,” she told HRmagazine. “I like to suggest taking the questions and changing them to be about gender rather than age. Would the researchers still be comfortable sending it out*?”

(*In case of confusion I am hoping the answer to this question would be no – we wouldn’t ask questions like this about other protected characteristics!)

This is a summary of a range of issues about this sort of research that I raised in my discussion with HR Magazine and which we have explored many times on our blog.  In addition to these points, the questions included in the survey were broad ranging and did not tap into any serious attempt to understand some of the issues that they were aiming to research.  So for example the survey asked “Thinking about the employees at your company, which generation of workers does each characteristic most describe?” followed by a list of the “characteristics” (including hardest workers, most productive, strongest work ethic, most skilled, most creative, best troubleshooters/problem-solvers, most friends or helpful, most tech-savvy, least cooperative (or least likely to take responsibility), biggest complainers, biggest roadblocks, least likely to take responsibility).  And no that’s not a typo – that last one seems to appear twice according to the data released  and produced with different results for each item!.

So what does ‘most skilled’ mean to you?  This is a rather rookie mistake and most survey designers would not attempt to capture a measure of a complex area such as ‘most skilled’ in a single item.  Many of the statements also include a rather confusing mix – is most friends the same as helpful?

So aside from the issue of defining generations and attempting to measure generational difference, the questions themselves about these so-called ‘characteristics’ are really very poorly designed!

At the most the survey tells as something about the sorts of generational stereotypes that are easy to tap into, sadly it also perpetuates them.



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