Generational Differences: More Myth Than Reality?

Last Updated Nov 20, 2009 9:24 AM EST

Generational differences at work certainly take up a lot of column inches in the media, and it's indisputable that society shifts slowly over time so seniors are sure to differ, on average, from the youngest workers at the office. But how useful really are generational differences in planning how to manage a team? Should companies really target and tweak and their policies for Gen Y or Gen X, for instance?
The Conference Board of Canada surveyed 900 people across the generations to try and answer just these sorts of questions. Their conclusion: generational differences are more myth than reality, at least in our neighbor to the north, and bosses should give up their attempts to "manage by stereotype."
The survey results do not support a conclusion that there are major differences in the personality types, work-life balance desires, or learning preferences from one generation to the next...employers need to be wary of programs and practices that warn of vast gulfs between the generations, and promise to elevate organizational performance through what might be termed 'management by stereotype.'
All generations are looking for "respect, flexibility and fairness" in the workplace, concludes the report and it's these timeless values that management should aim for. It's a message that might cause business journalists everywhere to sigh over the loss of a story with legs, but have managers breathing a sigh of relief. The complete report can be downloaded free from the Conference Board's site (after a long and annoying registration process).

How much do you think management should take generational differences into account when designing policies and practices?

(Image of mythical creatures waiting in line by Sam Howzit, CC 2.0)

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    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.