Peter is Director Research & Development for HRN. His interest is in bringing together businesses, and the people who led and manage them, to create the future of work.

Shock horror – Millennials are no different to other generations! Anyone who tells you different is likely selling fake news, alternative facts or the damned lies that statistics are so often used to perpetrate.


A recent study by IBM’s Smarter Workforce Institute has researched the research on inter-generational differences and they found … Differences in work attitudes? Practically zero.  Ambitions and desires at work? Timelessly similar.  Personality differences? Not so much. …. The Smarter Workforce Institute concluded that: “after more than a century of generational discourse, we have gained very little insight from these discussions that is of practical significance to organizational decision making. Yet, despite consistently small effect sizes in the research literature, interest in generational differences at work persists. We believe it is time to rely on better variables to make informed decisions about talent.”


Some believe in horoscopes, some in Myers-Briggs personality types, others believe they were born to lead and more still that they were born to follow, but me, I believe the earth is flat and god is a thunderbolt-throwing old white man with a long grey beard!  Yes – stereotypes rule in the world of the generational difference merchants and some of them can be found peddling the myth in illustrious journals like the Harvard Business Review. But, as the IBM report so clearly and correctly notes “stereotypes mischaracterize people, which leads to poor decisions about them and avoids treating them as individuals.”


The evidence is where it’s at and that evidence has led the researchers at the Smarter Workforce Institute to propose 3 solutions:


1. Try Groupings other than generational ones. The relationship between management level and commitment is about six times stronger than between generation and commitment. Therefore, to better understand organizational commitment, grouping employees by management level makes more sense than grouping them by generation.


2. Personalize the work experience. The contribution of individual characteristics accounts for 98 to 99 percent of the differences across employees, whereas generation accounts for a mere 0 to 2 percent. … mining social data for hidden insights will make it possible to personalize some aspects of the work environment to each individual employee’s preferences, creating a more positive work experience and increased productivity.


3.Pay attention to what is actionable. Practitioners should concentrate on actionable variables. Generation is not something organizations can change or easily take action on. The team at the Smarter Workforce Institute examined three very common top engagement drivers: Future Vision, Growth & Development, and Recognition. Notably, the relationships between these drivers and employee engagement do not vary much at all by generational age groups— and in fact, the correlations are all statistically identical to each other. This means organizations can engage Millennials the same way they engage Gen Xers and Boomers.


To conclude my colleagues and I at HRN positively encourage you to read the short report linked below and, as the researchers at IBM so succinctly put it,  “we encourage those responsible for talent in organizations to focus on the research evidence, and not to be misled by media headlines. Find the most meaningful groupings, ensure you also focus on employees as individuals, take actions accordingly, and you will surely drive improvements in employees’ workplace experiences leading to better bottom-line business results.”


Read online or download: Generational Differences at Work Are Much Ado About Very Little
Brought to you by: IBM Smarter Workforce Institute