Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Conference Board Study Warns Against Generational Stereotyping

The Conference Board of Canada has released a study on generational differences in the workplace that urges employers not to manage by stereotype and to be very cautious about the largely unfounded claims in the popular literature about generational differences.

While this study focuses on generational differences in the workplace, its conclusions confirm many of the conclusions of the Digital Learners in Higher Education research project which has so far found that in higher education, generation is not the issue and that most of the claims about generational differences are not supported by research.

The Conference Board surveyed over 900 workers in three different generations (Boomer, Gen X and Gen Y) on their self-perceptions regarding personality characteristics, workplace motivation, learning styles, communication preferences and social interaction behaviours. "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'"

The study's advice to employers: don't design workplace policies to fit particular generations of workers, instead develop a human resource management system "that makes all workers feel equally valued and is based on respect, shared values, flexibility, and fairness." This is what we said about the generational issue in higher education: don't design learning based on generational stereotypes, instead focus on the needs of your learners and the learning context.