By Jessica Kriegel and Brent Mesick, Oracle Corporation
In today’s workforce, intergenerational dynamics are a hot topic among HR professionals. Numerous books and articles have been written on the subject with attention-grabbing titles such as “Not Everybody Gets a Trophy” and “Grown Up Digital.” Yet trying to apply intergenerational dynamic interventions in a global organization like Oracle is complex and problematic.
A recent global study released by ORC International (1 | OCR International) reveals that 86% of HR professionals across 20 different sectors view millennials (born between 1980-2000) differently than previous generations. If you have been following the hype, then you may know some of the highlights: Baby boomers are loyal, millennials are tech-savvy, Gen Xers think outside the box, and so on. However, it is necessary to analyze whether or not these generational traits are simply unfair stereotypes propagated by increasing popularity in the generational issues fad. A recent study by Murray et al., from Massey University in New Zealand, found more similarities than differences among the generations, challenging the popular portrayals.
The real danger lies in making business decisions based on assumptions of generational differences that are not supported by empirical research. A 2010 American Society for Training and Development (2 | ASTD) survey of 1,546 high-level HR and learning professionals revealed that more than 60% of respondents consider generational differences when approaching instructional design. For example, social learning has increased in popularity in recent years according to the Bersin & Associates Corporate Learning Factbook (3 | Bersin). It might surprise some learning professionals to hear that numerous studies show millennials like learning online less than their baby boomer counterparts.
At Oracle, the looseness of popular intergenerational dynamics theory became clear when onboarding new college hires into the Product Development organization. 85% of product development’s 2013 U.S. college hires consisted of employees whose birth country is China. The new hires found a pilot program introducing intergenerational dynamics to be interesting, but irrelevant. Generational categories demarcated on social events do not translate across cultures with differing social and political climates. Worse, the participants began generalizing individuals and groups into categories without any consideration or data. We realized the topic had the potential for confusion, but we still had to bring the new hires onboard an organization steeped in intergenerational dynamics hype.
Our new approach is twofold. First, we demythologize managers about non-validated intergenerational dynamics claims. This is typically an informational seminar that includes a review of the contradictions in the current literature and an overview of validated, longitudinal studies such as Jean Twenge and Stacy Campbell’s “Generational Differences in Psychological Traits and Their Impact on the Workplace.” (4 | cyclopaedia.net)
Second, we focus the new hires not on generations, but on the cultural differences between their birth and occupational countries. Focus groups with managers and new college hires identified culturally based acclimation issues. New onboarding training includes cultural dynamics and the expectations of working with managers with different cultural backgrounds.
Though more generations are working together than before, the actual workforce is feeling generational differences much less than depicted. Instead, global organizations may require focus on cultural dynamics and the behaviors influencing them.
- ORC International. (September 2013) The talent conundrum: Retaining a competitive edge. Retrieved http://www.orcinternational.com/US/Insight/Articles/Documents/HR%20Reflections%20Exec%20Summary_US.pdf
- ASTD. Instructional Systems Design. Retrieved https://store.astd.org/Default.aspx?tabid=167&ProductId=21409
- Bersin by Deloit. (January 16, 2012) The Corporate Learning Factbook 2012: Benchmarks, Trends and Analysis of the U.S. Training Market. Retrieved http://www.bersin.com/Practice/Detail.aspx?id=15131
- cyclopaedia.net. (October 15, 2013) Psychological trait. Retrieved http://www2.cob.ilstu.edu/rcringer/MQM383/Articles/Generational-Differences.pdf
About the Authors