Monday, September 30, 2013

The research supporting "generational differences" in the workplace doesn't exist

The myth-busting is nothing new (here and here); that so-called generational differences are much better explained by the differences in age between "Generation Y" and Boomers than sociological influences producing an entire population of young adults who share similar values despite disparate upbringings.   Every person in their early 20's, no matter when they were born, tends to be a little more narcissistic and self-entitled compared to their parents' generation.  And what young person doesn't want respect or like to learn, to take two more examples that are claimed to differentiate Generation Y from the people who employ them.  These are the innate characteristics of all post-adolescents throughout history. Duh. 

And according to this post at Salon, the research by U. New Hampshire Professor of Management Paul Harvey that has been the source of popular media reports about the uniqueness of Generation Y when it comes to the workplace, doesn't actually exist:

Such conclusions [about Generation Y] are based on misunderstood research. Many of the more recent millennial critiques, including the Wait But Why post along with the New York Post, USA Today, CNBC, the Daily Mail and the Telegraph, find themselves citing the work of Paul Harvey. Harvey, a professor of management at the University of New Hampshire, researches the phenomenon of entitlement in workplaces — and he’s been finding a lot of it. Starting around 2010, amid an avalanche of stories in the  “college grads enter a hard economy” subgenre, journalists began tying academic research on entitlement to Generation Y’s workplace demeanor.

After scouring professor Harvey’s lengthy CV, I couldn’t see any research suggesting that entitlement is amplified in Generation Y-sters. In other words, I was looking for research that connected feelings of self-entitlement among young workers to being raised in the ’80s and ’90s. After I couldn’t find it, I emailed him. Here’s his response:

"Unfortunately the reason you can’t find the article is that it doesn’t exist…I’ve published some studies on workplace entitlement but I’ve never actually looked at generational differences. That’s primarily been a creation of the media – one of those things that’s now been repeated so many times that reporters and other writers assume that there must be an actual study out here somewhere. In their defense I usually collect age data as a control variable and I did once run a quick post-hoc analysis at the behest of a reporter that showed significantly higher entitlement in the younger age group. I think that’s the “study” that people now seem to think I’ve published… I do think there’s a difference with the level of entitlement we’re seeing in this generational group compared to past groups although it’s not something I’ve specifically set out to study."

In order to demonstrate that being a little delusional about one’s prospects in life, feeling entitled to more, and ultimately growing disillusioned are phenomena specific to millennials and not simply a function of age, we would need reliable longitudinal data on entitlement-specific attitudes of previous generations when they were the age that millennials are now. Otherwise, the data simply can’t show that millennials are any different from their parents when they were younger.

Continue reading here.


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