Is there any truth in generational stereotypes? Is there any truth in generational stereotypes?

Is there any truth in generational stereotypes?
15 Nov 2018

Generation Z, who are otherwise known as Centennials, first joined the workforce in 2010 and are often referred to in somewhat derogatory terms as ‘the Snowflake Generation.’

This new wave of young employees is often portrayed as being more prone to take offence and less resilient than their predecessors. In fact, they are generally categorised as weak and too emotionally vulnerable to cope with any views that challenge their own.

So is there any truth to this generational stereotype, or are we missing a trick by choosing to label people in this way? I believe the latter is true. The whole notion that people born within a given timeframe share the same personality, values and work ethic, is fundamentally flawed.

The casting of generations in this way has, in part, been fuelled by the management training fads, consultancy, business books et al that have been sold on the back of it. As a result, great swathes of the workforce have been assigned a generational stamp simply as a result of being born within a set time period. This applies to everyone from the ‘Baby Boomers’ and ‘Generation X-ers’ to the ‘Millennials’ and ‘Gen Z’.

These tags all assume that people born within a similar historical timeframe have had the same experiences, show the same traits and demonstrate the same values - and such thinking continues to have an impact on the way that people are hired, promoted, managed and retained in the workplace.

But there is little real evidence to support such a notion. In fact, some of our recent research into the generational divide, which compared the behavioural styles of one such group, the Millennials, with the rest of the workforce, underscored the short-sightedness of this kind of generational stereotyping. Put bluntly, it revealed that there are no significant differences between Millennials and other groups.

This research was based on our Personal Profile Analysis, a psychological assessment that provides an accurate insight into how people behave at work, their strengths and limitations, communication style, motivations and performance under pressure. By specifically comparing Millennials with non-Millennials, it became clear that there were no significant differences in the behavioural profiles of the different generations.

Myth versus reality

Data on the views of young people joining the workforce in 2012 was then compared with similar information from older workers. The exercise was subsequently repeated for those joining the world of work in 2018.

Again, the findings from both snapshots showed that relationships were very similar in both groups, which suggests that the behaviours demonstrated by Millennials are actually common to everyone joining the workforce, no matter when they do so.

In terms of other traits, the perception of Millennials as being “one of the most entrepreneurial generations that has ever lived” was also explored. This view has been expounded by a mix of organisations, ranging from US Small Business Development Centres in their ‘Generational views of entrepreneurship and small business’ study to Bentley University whose study was featured in Forbes.

But again, this generalisation was found to be misinformed. Indeed our research revealed that Millennials actually scored lower in terms of the ‘dominance’ trait, which has a high association with being entrepreneurial.

As well as behavioural styles, we also investigated the emotional intelligence of Millennials using the ‘Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire’. This Questionnaire reveals how well an individual understands and manages their own emotions and interprets the emotions of others. But the results showed there were no significant differences in the average emotional intelligence of either younger or older people.

While this research may have focused on Millennials, the findings apply across all generational stereotypes, including the so-called ‘Snowflake Generation’. To quote MacRae and Furnham: “There is no evidence to support the myth of generational differences in the workplace…At best, it is a few puff pieces and popular books that have no effect. At worst, it is toxic because it is incorrect, misleading and leads to poor, misinformed decision making in the workplace.”

Psychological research is consistently showing that the differences between individuals are far greater than the differences between groups. In other words, you are more likely to see differences between individual Millennials than between the average Millennial and Baby Boomer.

So rather than be taken in by the myths and rhetoric that are all too abundant, focus on the differences between people, not the generation they were born into. The rewards will be worth it.

Amir Qureshi

As chief executive officer of Thomas International, Amir Qureshi is passionate about working with business leaders, entrepreneurs and people managers, helping them to make the very best of their talent.

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Generation Z, who are otherwise known as Centennials, first joined the workforce in 2010 and are often referred to in somewhat derogatory terms as ‘the Snowflake Generation.’

This new wave of young employees is often portrayed as being more prone to take offence and less resilient than their predecessors. In fact, they are generally categorised as weak and too emotionally vulnerable to cope with any views that challenge their own.

So is there any truth to this generational stereotype, or are we missing a trick by choosing to label people in this way? I believe the latter is true. The whole notion that people born within a given timeframe share the same personality, values and work ethic, is fundamentally flawed.

The casting of generations in this way has, in part, been fuelled by the management training fads, consultancy, business books et al that have been sold on the back of it. As a result, great swathes of the workforce have been assigned a generational stamp simply as a result of being born within a set time period. This applies to everyone from the ‘Baby Boomers’ and ‘Generation X-ers’ to the ‘Millennials’ and ‘Gen Z’.

These tags all assume that people born within a similar historical timeframe have had the same experiences, show the same traits and demonstrate the same values - and such thinking continues to have an impact on the way that people are hired, promoted, managed and retained in the workplace.

But there is little real evidence to support such a notion. In fact, some of our recent research into the generational divide, which compared the behavioural styles of one such group, the Millennials, with the rest of the workforce, underscored the short-sightedness of this kind of generational stereotyping. Put bluntly, it revealed that there are no significant differences between Millennials and other groups.

This research was based on our Personal Profile Analysis, a psychological assessment that provides an accurate insight into how people behave at work, their strengths and limitations, communication style, motivations and performance under pressure. By specifically comparing Millennials with non-Millennials, it became clear that there were no significant differences in the behavioural profiles of the different generations.

Myth versus reality

Data on the views of young people joining the workforce in 2012 was then compared with similar information from older workers. The exercise was subsequently repeated for those joining the world of work in 2018.

Again, the findings from both snapshots showed that relationships were very similar in both groups, which suggests that the behaviours demonstrated by Millennials are actually common to everyone joining the workforce, no matter when they do so.

In terms of other traits, the perception of Millennials as being “one of the most entrepreneurial generations that has ever lived” was also explored. This view has been expounded by a mix of organisations, ranging from US Small Business Development Centres in their ‘Generational views of entrepreneurship and small business’ study to Bentley University whose study was featured in Forbes.

But again, this generalisation was found to be misinformed. Indeed our research revealed that Millennials actually scored lower in terms of the ‘dominance’ trait, which has a high association with being entrepreneurial.

As well as behavioural styles, we also investigated the emotional intelligence of Millennials using the ‘Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire’. This Questionnaire reveals how well an individual understands and manages their own emotions and interprets the emotions of others. But the results showed there were no significant differences in the average emotional intelligence of either younger or older people.

While this research may have focused on Millennials, the findings apply across all generational stereotypes, including the so-called ‘Snowflake Generation’. To quote MacRae and Furnham: “There is no evidence to support the myth of generational differences in the workplace…At best, it is a few puff pieces and popular books that have no effect. At worst, it is toxic because it is incorrect, misleading and leads to poor, misinformed decision making in the workplace.”

Psychological research is consistently showing that the differences between individuals are far greater than the differences between groups. In other words, you are more likely to see differences between individual Millennials than between the average Millennial and Baby Boomer.

So rather than be taken in by the myths and rhetoric that are all too abundant, focus on the differences between people, not the generation they were born into. The rewards will be worth it.

Amir Qureshi

As chief executive officer of Thomas International, Amir Qureshi is passionate about working with business leaders, entrepreneurs and people managers, helping them to make the very best of their talent.

OTHER ARTICLES THAT MAY INTEREST YOU

Generation Z unveiled

Management for beginners: Focus, prioritise, delegate

Defusing the management time bomb