Managing the Multigenerational Workforce: From the GI Generation to the Millennials

Larry W. Hughes (Nebraska Wesleyan University, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA)

Leadership & Organization Development Journal

ISSN: 0143-7739

Article publication date: 30 August 2011

2102

Keywords

Citation

Hughes, L.W. (2011), "Managing the Multigenerational Workforce: From the GI Generation to the Millennials", Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Vol. 32 No. 6, pp. 648-651. https://doi.org/10.1108/01437731111161111

Publisher

:

Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited


Managing the Multigenerational Workforce: From the GI Generation to the Millennials is an interesting treatise of a perceived – and highly discussed – workplace issue: the multigenerational workforce. The authors have performed admirably in pulling together a useful supplement to an undergraduate course in Organizational Behavior or Human Resources Management. In this book is a sampling of past and current research about the generational cohorts and addresses the stereotypes assigned to each.

There are a number of concerns about the topic that were not addressed in the book's brevity. In short, the authors' attempts to mitigate the myths that shroud the generations dialogue fell short of shedding light on the topic. There is too much assumption regarding the generational cohorts extant in the contemporary workforce and the distinctions between them, which is a common approach, and the boundaries of which are not as clear as they are often assumed to be. For example, lacking are important discussion points such as the “cuspers” or those folks who fall between generations, as well as waves within each generation, or what we might call sub‐generations whose earlier members perceive their worlds much differently than later arrivals to the same generational cohort.

Each dominant generation has criticized the emergent as long as people have recognized generations. Social observers as historically distant as Plato made this observation. More recently, Toeffler (1969, p. 20) extended his admonishment: “students so ignorant of their past that they see nothing unusual about the present”. More recently, the early research questions of Howe and Strauss (1991, 1993, 1997, 2000) sparked a decade long, often fearful, discussion of how to accommodate so many generations working together, especially the Millenials, defined on the basis of a sample that was far from generalizable. In fact, many assumptions drawn from the Howe and Strauss work have been challenged in more recent work (Twenge, 2007).

While each generation exhibits common attitudes based on shared perspectives of what happens around them, no generation operates in a vacuum. World events affect all generations existing at a point in time. For example, the events of the 2008 financial crisis were felt, albeit differentially, by the four extant generations. It is simply that current events are seminal to emerging generations coming into their own. However, to continue to highlight a single generation as “the generation” that we hang our hats on for success is putting an unfair burden on them as has the manufacture of this generation by promotional marketing.

Regardless of one's attitude toward this topic, Managing the Multigenerational Workforce is a highly useful supplement to a course module during which the multigenerational workforce is discussed, but it attempts to cover too much theoretical ground in its limited treatment of the psychological contract (a useful discussion that is probably most relevant to understanding the multigenerational workforce), organizations, recruitment, and management styles. Perhaps, in the thin treatment of these complex issues lies the opportunity for considerable discussion.

The eight chapters in this book are bracketed by an introduction, notes, and an index. The first three chapters define and provide examples of the various generations extant in the contemporary workforce followed by common assumptions about expectations common to generational cohorts. Chapter 4 discusses relationship building. The remaining four chapters cover highly relevant and important topics such as the psychological contract; organizational structure, culture, and training; recruitment and retention; and managerial styles. The authors also include a table containing key characteristics of each of the generations discussed throughout the book.

The most valuable and compelling topic addressed by the authors of Managing is the psychological contract and this reviewer encourages the authors to consider developing a stream of research on this important distinction. The Millennials comprise a “manufactured generation” for which expectations are a key identifier. And a useful discussion is the impact that the failing economy has had on Millennials' expectations. In closing, this little book has useful information about generational characteristics and is an excellent starter for conversation and debate.

References

Howe, N. and Strauss, W. (1993), 13th Gen: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail?, Vintage, New York, NY.

Howe, N. and Strauss, W. (2000), Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation, Vintage, New York, NY.

Strauss, W. and Howe, N. (1991), Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069, Quill, New York, NY.

Strauss, W. and Howe, N. (1997), The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy, Broadway Books, New York, NY.

Toeffler, A. (1969), Futureshock, Bantam Books, New York, NY.

Twenge, J.M. (2007), Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled – And More Miserable than Ever Before, The Free Press, New York, NY.

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