Building on previous research into generational differences, this exploratory study examined whether differences in personality and motivational drivers truly exist in the workplace across different generations. Using the Occupational Personality Questionnaire and the Motivation Questionnaire as measures of personality and motivational values respectively, the study examined cross-sectional differences in three groups of working Australian participants: Baby Boomers, Gen X’s and Gen Y’s.
Results are not supportive of generational stereotypes that have been pervasive in the management literature and the media. Specifically, few meaningful differences were found between the three generations. Moreover, even when differences have been observed, these have related more to age rather than generational differences. More importantly, while the differences have been statistically significant, they were observed to be minimal in practical interpretation terms.
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This further emphasizes the importance of managing individuals by focusing on individual differences rather than relying on generational stereotypes. There has been a recent proliferation in ‘popular’ literature focusing on the need to work with, engage, and manage Generation Y employees differently than Generation X or Baby Boomer employees (e. g. Howe, Strauss, & Matson, 2000; Huntley, 2006; Smola & Sutton, 2002).
This is based on the notion that key differences exist in the work values and beliefs of employees from different generations, and that failure to address these differences can lead to conflict in the workplace, misunderstanding and miscommunication, lower employee productivity, poor employee wellbeing and reduced organisational citizenship behaviour (Adams, 2000; Bradford, 1993; Fyock, 1990; Jurkievicz, 2000; Kupperschmidt, 2000; Smola & Sutton, 2002; Yu & Miller, 2003).
In contrast to this literature, Jorgensen (2003) questions whether the combination of Baby Boomers, Gen X’s and Gen Y’s values, likes and dislikes actually have the capacity to disturb common workforce strategies, consume resources and contribute to the wearing away of ‘generational cohesion’ in the workplace. Instead, he puts forward the argument that current knowledge around generational characteristics has predominantly arisen from the qualitative experiences of the authors, with findings lacking the necessary empirical rigour needed to base workplace strategies and practices on their conclusions alone.
Given the changing age demographic of the Australian workforce (Hume, n. d. ), it is now possible for up to four different generations of employees to be working together within one organisation. As such, it is increasingly important for us to better understand these generational differences, and determine if these differences truly exist. In light of this, this study focuses specifically on personality and motivation, and aims to explore whether personal preferences and motivational drivers differ across individuals from different generations in the Australian working population.
Reviewing the notion of ‘generations’ Kupperschmidt (2000) defines a generation as an identifiable group which shares years of birth and hence significant life events at critical stages of development. In general, while researchers differ slightly in the precise years of birth that define the different generations, most agrees that there are four broad generations of employees: Veterans (1925-1944), Baby Boomers (1945-1964), Gen X (1965-1981), and Gen Y (1982-2000) (Hart, 2006; Howe, Strauss & Matson, 2000; Yu & Miller, 2003).
A generational group shares historical and social life experiences which affect the way people in that generation develop and distinguish one generational group from another. Smola and Sutton (2002) posit that the social context in which a generational group develops impacts their personality and a person’s feelings towards authority, their values and beliefs about organisations, their work ethic, why and how they work and their goals and aspirations for their work life (Smola & Sutton, 2002).
It has also been suggested that each generation is likely to develop distinct preferences or traits that distinguish their feelings toward work and what they desire from work (Jurkievicz & Brown, 1998; Kupperschmidt, 2000). Baby Boomers (Born 1945-1964) Baby Boomers are currently the largest generation cohort in the workforce. A review of existing literature (e. g. Hart, 2006; Smola & Sutton, 2002; Loomis, 2000) suggests that employees in this group value on-job security and a stable working environment.
Furthermore, this group has been typified in the literature as most likely to remain loyal and attached to an organisation, and are idealistic, optimistic and driven (Hart, 2006; Loomis, 2000). Others have described Baby Boomers as more diligent on the job (Yu & Miller, 2003), and value having a high degree of power within the organisation (McCrindle & Hooper, 2006). Other stereotypes of Baby Boomers are that they are more likely to focus on consensus building and are excellent mentors (Hart, 2006; Kupperschmidt, 2000). Generation X (Born 1965-1981)
People in Gen X are typically characterised as cynical, pessimistic and individualist (Kupperschmidt, 2000; Smola & Sutton, 2002). Portrayed as comfortable with change and diversity, some argue that Gen X’s are not likely to display loyalty to a particular company or organisation, being more independent and self-sufficient than people from previous generations (Hart, 2006). As a result, they are seen to be more likely to leave one job and seek out more challenging options, a higher salary, or improved benefits (Hays, 1999; Loomis, 2000).
Compared to Baby Boomers who respect authority, Gen X’s are seen as sceptical and unimpressed with authority (Hart, 2006), and require immediate, continuous feedback. Their approach to work has been characterised as one that values a strong work-life balance (Howe et al. , 2000), whereby personal values and goals are likely to be regarded as more important than work-related goals. Generation Y (Born 1982-2000) Gen Y has grown up with technology and is used to having technology as a large part of their life.
They are seen to be comfortable with change and are less likely to see job security as an important factor in the workplace (Hart, 2006). As employees, Gen Y’s are typified as valuing skill development and enjoying the challenge of new opportunities. Similar to the Baby Boomers, they are viewed as driven and demanding of the work environment and are also likely to be optimistic (Huntley, 2006; Smola & Sutton, 2002). Displaying a high level of confidence, Gen Y’s are described as enjoying collective action and are highly socialised (Hart, 2006; Smola & Sutton, 2002; Tulgan & Martin, 2001).
Moreover, they are seen to value having responsibility and having input into decisions and actions (McCrindle & Hooper, 2006). Generational differences in personality and motivation A review of the existing literature suggests that while previous research has examined differences in work values across generations (e. g. Smola & Sutton, 2002; Yu & Miller, 2003), research findings examining generational differences in personality and motivational drivers in the workplace have been limited.
Specifically, while there have been research studies examining differences in personality and motivational drivers across generations (e. g. , Twenge, 2000, Twenge 2001a, Twenge, 2001b), these have tended to focus on broad differences rather than being specifically focussed on the workplace. Instead, the research on generational differences at work has tended to focus on work values. Work values refer to an employee’s attitudes regarding what is ‘right’, as well as attitudes about what an individual should expect in the workplace (Brown, 1976; George & Jones, 1999).
While an individual’s personality preferences and motivational drivers are likely to be related to and influenced by his/her work values (Ashley, Bartram & Schoonman, 2001), it is important to maintain a distinction between these concepts. Personality Personality is defined as an individual’s preferred or typical way of behaving, thinking and feeling (Saville, Holdsworth, Nyfield, Cramp & Mabey, 1984). Hence, while an individual’s values are likely to influence behaviour in the workplace, personality is likely to be more direct measure of actual behaviour.
The importance of understanding personality differences across generations in the workplace is highlighted by research indicating that individual differences in personality affect job performance (Barrick, Stewart & Piotrowski, 2002; Tett & Burnett, 2003) and job satisfaction (Avery, Bouchard, Segal & Abraham, 1989). This suggests that, to maintain a high-performing and satisfied workforce across all three generations of employees, organisations need to understand the key generational differences across the personality preferences.
While there is limited research conducted specifically with participants from the working population, there have been a number of studies examining generational differences in personality more broadly. For example, in a study of birth cohort differences in personality, Twenge (2001b) found that American women’s assertiveness rose and fell with changes in women’s social status between 1932 and 1993. Based on these findings, Twenge posited that social change and socio-cultural environment can be internalised as personality traits.
Furthermore, meta-analyses of American data between 1952 and 1993 indicated a significant increase in levels of anxiety and neuroticism over this time (Twenge, 2000). These studies illustrate the link between birth cohort and personality traits, suggesting that the socio-cultural environment can have an impact on personality development. In a separate study, Twenge (2001a) also performed a cross-temporal meta-analysis to investigate the differences in extraversion scores of American college students across birth cohorts to understand the effects of the larger socio-cultural environment on a person’s personality.
The results of Twenge’s study indicated that 14 to 19% of variation in extraversion scores could be explained by changes in birth cohort. In the light of these findings, it is expected that personality differences across generations are likely to be observed in the workplace. Motivational drivers Motivational drivers refer to the factors that energise, direct and sustain behaviour in the individual (Baron, Henley, McGibbon & McCarthy, 1992). While very closely linked to values (Brown, 1976), motivation is more specific to the factors that drive actual performance.
The commonly-held perception in the management literature is that the notion of ‘hard work pays dividends’ does not apply to Gen X, and that Gen X’s lack of loyalty towards organisations is due to the fact that they saw their parents being laid off despite years of loyalty to their job (Adams, 2000; Huntley, 2006). This perception may be supported by Twenge, et al’s (2004) research which indicated birth cohort differences in locus of control, with the younger generation reporting a significantly more external locus of control, which is linked to greater cynicism and helpfulness.
As a result, Gen X may seek to retain ‘control’ over other aspects of their lives, thereby valuing work-life balance more strongly. While the popular literature supports the notion that there are intrinsic generational differences in motivational drivers, there is research contradicting this notion. For example, Hornblower (1997) posited that large percentages of Gen X’s believe that progress can be achieved through hard work. Instead, the difference between the generations is likely to lie in the reasons for working hard.
Similarly, Appelbaum, Serena and Shapiro (2004) argue that the lack of motivation to work hard has been attributed to every other age cohort at the same point in their life stage. Specifically, Appelbaum, et al (2004) compared common motivational factors across Baby Boomers and Gen X’s and found that, contrary to common perceptions, four out of the five motivational factors selected as being most important were identical for both cohorts (including a stable and secure future, a high salary, a chance to learn new things, and variety in work assignments).
Their exploratory research suggests that differences in motivation across generations may not be as marked as popular literature suggests. Focus of the present study Building on previous research into generational differences at work (Hui-Chun & Miller, 2003; McCrindle & Hooper, 2006; Smola & Sutton, 2002) and the broader research into generational differences in personality and motivational drivers (Twenge, 2000; Twenge, 2001a; Twenge, 2001b), this study aims to examine whether differences in personality and motivational drivers exist across three generations of the Australian working population.
This will be based on cross-sectional data from an Australian sample. While a cross-sectional study does not allow a perfect model for examining whether differences (if any) are linked to age or generational differences, it is useful as an indication of whether there are differences in the three generations at work, as they currently exist. In particular, two hypotheses were developed to determine whether the commonly-held beliefs of the three generations are supported by existing cross-sectional data:
Hypothesis 1: There will be key differences in the personal preferences of Baby Boomers, Gen X’s and Gen Y’s. Specifically, it is expected that: • Baby Boomers will be more optimistic than Gen X’s; • Gen X’s will be less affiliative than Baby Boomers and Gen Y’s; • Baby Boomers and Gen Y’s will be more career-driven than Gen X’s. Hypothesis 2: There are key differences in the motivational drivers of Baby Boomers, Gen X’s and Gen Y’s.
Specifically, it is expected that: • Baby Boomers are likely to be more strongly motivated by job security than Gen X’s and Gen Y’s; • Baby Boomers and Gen Y’s will be more strongly motivated by having responsibility and power within the organisation than Gen X’s; • Gen X’s are likely to be less motivated than Baby Boomers and Gen Y’s by work that requires their commitment beyond ‘normal’ working hours. Method To test for differences across the three generations, an existing dataset of participants’ responses to the Occupational Personality Questionnaire (OPQ32; Saville et al. 1984) and the Motivational Questionnaire (MQ, Baron et al. , 1992) were used. Participants The sample was made up of 3,535 managers and professions who completed the OPQ32 personality test and 294 professionals who completed the MQ. All participants were employees of moderate to large Australian organisations. The sample is part of a wider set of participants who had previously completed the OPQ32 and MQ between 2002 and 2006 as part of a job selection process, a development program, or as part of a training course.
Participants were sampled from all major states in Australia, including Victoria, New South Wales, Western Australia, South Australia, and the Australian Capital Territory. As the disclosure of demographic variables was optional when completing the questionnaire, there is limited information available about the demographic background of this group, other than age and state. Based on reported age, each participant was categorised into Baby Boomers, Gen X or Gen Y.
Those who reported to be over 40 years old were placed in the Baby Boomers group (N = 1,005 for OPQ; 110 for MQ); those who reported to be between 24 and 40 years old were considered to be Gen X (N = 2,089 for OPQ; 140 for MQ); those who were 23 years old or younger were placed in the Gen Y group (N = 441 for OPQ; 44 for MQ). Measures Occupational Personality Questionnaire (OPQ32): The OPQ32 is a self-report measure of individuals’ personality or behavioural preferences.
Utilising an ipsative questionnaire approach, participants are provided with blocks for four statements, and are forced to choose, within each block of four, one statement which they feel is most like them and one statement which is least like them. Sample items include “I make decisions without consultation,” “I prefer new ways of working,” and “I like to keep busy. ” Based on their responses to the blocks of questions, their preferences for 32 different personality traits are determined, as compared to a norm group of similar age and profession.
The present study looked specifically at the following scales, as these personality styles are believed to be most relevant to the comparison of generations: • Achieving: the degree to which a person perceives themselves as ambitious and career-centred and the degree to which they prefer to work to demanding goals and targets; • Affiliative: the degree to which a person enjoys others’ company, prefers to be around people, and tends to miss the company of others; • Optimistic: the degree to which a person sees themselves as having an optimistic view of the future and the degree to which they expect things to turn out well and looks to the positive aspects of a situation; • Variety Seeking: the degree to which a person enjoys doing non-routine work; • Independent Minded: the degree to which a person tends to have their own opinions and views, independent of the group consensus; • Conscientious: the degree to which a person completes tasks in a timely manner and sees things through to completion. Motivation Questionnaire (MQ): The MQ is a self-report measure of an individual’s motivation drivers. Using a five-point Likert scale (Strongly Disagree, Disagree, Neutral, Agree, Strongly Agree), participants are asked to rate the extent to which specific activities or factors motivate (or de-motivate) them in the workplace.
Sample items include “Being required to do several things at once”, “Working for a profit-making organisation”, and “An emphasis on team work on the job. ” Based on their responses to the items, their levels of motivation in relations to 18 motivational factors are determined. The present study looked specifically at the following scales, as these motivational drivers are believed to be most relevant to the comparison of generations: • Power: the extent to which a person is motivated by opportunities for exercising authority, taking responsibility, negotiating and being in a position to influence others; • Immersion: the extent to which a person is motivated by work that requires commitment eyond ‘normal’ working hours; • Ease and security: the extent to which a person is motivated by contextual factors, such as a pleasant working conditions and job security; • Progression: the extent to which a person is motivated by having good promotion prospects; • Personal growth: the extent to which a person is motivated by opportunities for further training and development and the acquisition of new skills; • Affiliation: the extent to which a person is motivated by opportunities for interaction with other people in their work. Results One-way ANOVAs were conducted to investigate differences across the three generations for all the OPQ32 and MQ scales. The results of the analyses provide support for the existence of generational differences in personality and motivational drivers in an Australian occupational setting, however many of the relationships are not in the direction expected. Generational differences in personality The results indicate that the greatest differences between the generations were between the Baby Boomers and Gen Y. The profiles for Gen X seemed to fall in between the scores for the other two generations.
A summary of the results can be found in Table 1, while Table 2 provides a summary of the mean differences and effect sizes for the results which were found to be significantly different. Table 1. Results of generational differences in personality, as measured by the OPQ32 |OPQ32 Scale |F |Mean Boomers (SD) |Mean Gen X |Mean Gen Y | | | | |(SD) |(SD) | |Achieving |111. 07** |15. 33 (4. 09) |17. 54 (4. 04) |17. 77 (4. 7) | |Affiliative |17. 46** |11. 83 (4. 11) |12. 09 (4. 16) |13. 21 (4. 33) | |Conscientious |4. 62** |18. 43 (3. 75) |18. 17 (3. 83) |18. 73 (3. 75) | |Independent Minded |2. 91 |10. 74 (3. 70) |10. 68 (3. 94) |11. 17 (4. 12) | |Optimistic |20. 52** |16. 35 (4. 25) |15. 59 (4. 19) |14. 91 (4. 10) | |Variety Seeking |1. 86 |12. 60 (4. 07) |12. 81 (4. 36) |12. 44 (4. 6) | ** p < . 01 df (between groups) = 2 df (within groups) = 3532 Table 2. Mean differences and effect sizes for generational differences in personality, as measured by the OPQ32 |OPQ32 Scale |Generations |Mean Difference |d | |Achieving |Gen Y > Baby Boomer |2. 44* |0. 60 | |Achieving |Gen X > Baby Boomer |2. 21* |0. 54 | |Affiliative |Gen Y > Gen X |1. 118* |0. 7 | |Affiliative |Gen Y > Baby Boomer |1. 381* |0. 33 | |Conscientious |Gen Y > Gen X |. 561* |0. 15 | |Optimistic |Baby Boomer > Gen X |. 758* |0. 18 | * Significant at the . 05 level As evident in Table 1, of the six scales examined, only four have reflected significant generational differences. Specifically, on the personality traits Variety Seeking and Independent Minded, no significant differences were found between the three generations. On the other hand,