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Generational “differences”? Work ethic examined

by on October 4, 2017

Regular readers of this blog will know that we have covered the topic of ‘generational differences’ more than once; the methodological limitations of many studies in this area are now well rehearsed – for example – investigating attitudes of one ‘generation’ and claiming it possesses some unique characteristic that must be accommodated in the workplace. If we were to be cynical we might say that these ‘findings’ promote a certain type of business – that of telling managers how they must / can manage this accommodation.

A recent paper published this summer reports on a meta-analysis of 77 studies and 105 different measures of work ethic in different ‘generations’ : Zabel, K. L., Biermeier-Hanson, B. B. J., Baltes, B. B., Early, B. J., & Shepard, A. (2017). Generational Differences in Work Ethic: Fact or Fiction? Journal of Business and Psychology, 32(3), 301-315.

The article is behind a pay wall but see here in Science Daily for a useful synopsis: ‘The analysis found no differences in the work ethic of different generations. These findings support other studies that found no difference in the work ethics of different generations when considering different variables, such as the hours they work or their commitment to family and work. Zabel’s team did however note a higher work ethic in studies that contained the response of employees working in industry rather than of students.’

This is the latest in a line of papers that suggest that so-called ‘generational differences’ have been over-stated at best and at worst are the product of sloppy methodologies.

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