New generation brings its values to work

By Laura Raines It doesn’t matter whether you call them Gen Y, GenMe or Millennials, the…

Georgia (May 3, 2010) — By Laura Raines


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It doesn’t matter whether you call them Gen Y, GenMe or Millennials, the youngest generation of workers, born roughly between 1980 and 1999, is hitting the labor pool. And they’re bringing their values with them. They’ve been variously labeled as entitled, narcissistic, altruistic, individualistic, wired, fast-learning and over-confident.
“Up until now, the differences seen in the younger generation have been largely anecdotal, but now we have data to support the stories,” said Stacy M. Campbell, professor of management at the Coles College of Business at Kennesaw State University.
Campbell, with psychologists Jean M. Twenge (San Diego State University), Brian J. Hoffman and Charles E. Lance (both from the University of Georgia), recently published “Generational Difference in Work Values: Leisure and Extrinsic Values Increasing, Social and Intrinsic Values Decreasing,” in the 2010 Journal of Management.
“We looked at a representative sample [16,507] of graduating high school seniors from 1976 (boomers), 1991 (Gen X) and 2006 (Gen M) from the Monitoring the Future database to see generational differences in work attitudes,” Campbell said.
“While 17- and 18-year-olds aren’t in the work force yet, there’s plenty of research that shows their values are set by that age and influence the major decisions they are about to make.”
Campbell and her co-authors looked at the generational attitude differences toward five key work values: extrinsic values (pay, benefits, status); intrinsic values (meaningful and interesting work); social values (wanting friends at work); altruistic values (giving back, volunteerism); and leisure values (vacation time, pace of work).
They found that Gen Y valued intrinsic rewards somewhat less than Gen X and boomers.
“Perhaps most significantly, the younger generations placed a much higher value on leisure time,” Campbell said. “Almost twice as many young people in 2006 rated having a job with more than two weeks of vacation as ‘very important’ than did in 1976.” At the same time the youngest generation’s interest in salary and status — did not decrease.
“While Generation X valued money highly, they were willing to work hard for it. Gen Y has the high expectations of getting paid well and having more leisure time. They want [to have] their cake and eat it, too.”
The researchers also found that Gen Y was no more or less interested in altruism than previous generations, but that it valued social interactions at work less than either Gen X or boomers.
“We conjectured that younger people have so many ways to interact with friends outside of work — Facebook, Internet, texting, etc. — that work was no longer needed as a social outlet,” Campbell said.
Campbell cautions that these are average attitude changes. “My students are Gen Y and while I have experience with ‘the entitled’ attitude, others are really hard-working. This generation is also tech-savvy. They value diversity and they embrace change — and those traits are a good match for our changing workplace,” she said.
Gen Y was expected to be 30 percent to 40 percent of the workforce by now, Campbell said, but the recession has put that on hold. “Boomers aren’t retiring and jobs are scarce. Gen Y’ers, like everyone else, are having trouble finding jobs,” she said.
“In the short term, the recession could reset some of Gen Y’s high expectations, making them more grateful to find any job,” she said. “On the other hand, the economy is only one factor in many — parents, media, friends — that influence people. We looked at data from 2008 and attitudes had not changed. If things get worse and expectations don’t change, this could be a disappointed, unhappy group,” Campbell said.
But in the long term, more people will be leaving than entering the work force in 2016 — and younger workers will be needed. Employers will be looking for new ways to attract and keep those workers.
“This would be a good time for companies to be proactive and re-evaluate their existing policies — to take some baby steps realizing that, over time, workforce needs change,” she said. “If everyone is working longer, maybe more vacation time up front isn’t such a crazy idea. Maybe somewhere there’s a happy medium.”



A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit