Generational Differences at Work: An Excuse for Finger Pointing?

Hot Take

Generational Differences at Work : An Excuse for Finger Pointing?

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. DE&I. 

There’s a problem with the order of those letters. Fairness and belonging are the foundation for a successful multi-perspective team. And, inclusion precedes diversity. Culturally and collectively, companies must commit to constantly learning and seeking ways to nurture inclusivity in order for a diverse range of individuals to bring their lived experiences and intersectionality to work, and thrive. 

Here at Culture Correspondence, over this edition and next week’s we’re looking at a specific form of diversity; generational differences. 

While low-trust cultures (because let’s face it, that’s what they are) continue to struggle with the post-pandemic emphasis on flexibility, individualised approaches and allround better-managed expectations at work, it feels to us like an awful lot of finger-pointing is going on. 

Is it really the case that Gen Z are digging their heels in, being entitled and making demands of the employee<>employer relationship that are inappropriate?

Do You Even Mean it When You Say ‘Generation’?

Generational differences are frequently, and seemingly acceptedly categorised.

Of the range of generations represented in the workplace (Boomer, Gen X, Millennial, Gen Z) it is widely believed that each has its own unique characteristics and values, which affect their behaviour and attitudes towards work, their colleagues and the culture they wish to experience. However, here at Culture Correspondence we are questioning how convenient this all is.

Generational categorisation has snowballed into an open and widely accepted component of People & Culture vocabulary.

But, should generational categorisation be influencing people experience design, HR strategies and engagement-enhancing initiatives?

There is an important and compelling argument for pausing to think about the adoption of generational differences as a way to distinguish employee cohorts. This recent journal publication is a recommended read (so much so, we’ve referenced it again in our ‘Recommended’ section this week) and provides us with the only statement we should all need…

“Attempts to empirically study generations have extended these ideas into positivist and deterministic practices for which they were not intended

The paper urges us to consider the differences between;

  • Age effects (referring to literally the lives we’ve lived) 
  • Period effects (referring to contemporary differences of specific times and places) 
  • Cohort effects (using the year of one’s birth, these are the generational differences we’re all chucking about at work!)

In order to refer to generational categories and the differences between them, it is,

“necessary to rule out the effect of age (i.e., developmental influences) and period (i.e., contemporaneous contextual influences)”

That requires developing an understanding of the individual in question, which definitely requires more time and effort in the workplace than using sweeping generalisations. And to quote the Bard (cos, why not?) therein lies the rub. 

Understanding The Individual

We wonder whether the language used to categorise generations has become overblown. And the big question is this: are generational differences a superficially excusable mechanism for being derogatory about the needs of the contemporary workforce?

According to McKinsey (2020), 80% of people reported that they enjoy working from home. Yep. People. EVERYONE…

Not young, digitally native people who don’t value social interaction with their colleagues and want to take a full time salary to do a part time job while they indulge in their hobbies and kill time on TikTok and pretend to work (....sigh.)

The People professional writing this, has certainly heard that kind of assertion made. It’s not an exaggeration of the language being used - most often by presenteeism advocates.

And this kind of language is not only unhelpful stereotyping on the basis of the potential flaws of any one ‘generation’ (stereotyping that also ignores all the potential positive traits that ‘generation’ may share) crucially, it also distracts from the real issues facing the modern workforce.

The teams behind Culture Correspondence (Juno and CultureClimate) believe passionately, to our core, that individualised approaches at work are the right philosophy to adopt. We also believe that delivering for a range of individuals doesn’t present the overwhelming operational challenge it might initially sound like.

What if instead of commanding, the company’s primary focus was really to get out of employees' way? What is instead of intervention after intervention, the focus became enabling self-service?

Flexibility, individualisation and transparency in the workplace are not unique to Millennials or Gen Z. They are basic human needs that have become more important in the modern working context.

We’ll be back in touch next week to share the results of our generational differences survey and to shed further light on what this is really all about, not for the company - but for the individuals.


Dear reader, we need your help!

We want to know what you think about generational differences at work, how they ‘show up’ and just how relevant they really are…

In next week’s edition of Culture Correspondence, Ginni’s Hot Take will be a follow-up to this week’s blog. It will feature the collated results of (anonymously submitted) responses to this survey - and we want to hear from as many people as possible.

Including you! We’d really appreciate your contribution.


Word From The Street 

Ginni’s favourite quote of the week from the HR Community

This week I noticed an insightful, at a glance demonstration of the flexibility perception challenges companies are facing, in David Green’s People Analytics summary for January (I know, I realise that it’s March!) This graph demonstrates how managers and employees think remote work affects productivity. (Original source)  


No cookie cutters or silver bullets here, just things Ginni thinks are interesting and/or useful.

As promised, we’re sharing the article we’ve referenced in this week’s Blog. Published in 2020, “Generations and Generational Differences: Debunking Myths in Organizational Science and Practice and Paving New Paths Forward” is a recommended read!

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