Generational diversity has received increased attention in the last two decades across the world. This interest has been triggered due to significant changes in the global demographics. A number of countries in the West are experiencing the reality of ageing while countries like India have a demographic dividend with the average age being 25. The demographics pose significant challenges for both domestic and multinational organisations in India because of the rapid growth context. Rapid-growth firms are ‘those with a three-year compounded sales growth rate of 80% or above’ or those with a growth in its employment by at least 15% per year (i.e. at least doubled their employment over five years) (Barringer, Jones, & Neubaum, 2005; pp 664). Rapid growth companies have also been defined as companies that grow at an average rate greater than 20% per year (in number of employees) for at least four or five years in a row (Kotter & Sathe, 1978). From a multi-generational perspective, the definition pertaining to increase in employee growth is a more appropriate one. Using this definition, as an illustration, Table 1 below provides a sample of firms that are experiencing rapid growth in the IT services sector as per the definition of employee growth. This phenomenon is also observed in other industries like retail, financial services and health care.
|Tech Mahindra (MBT)||4300||5617||10,493||19,749||22,884||24,972||33,524||41%|
(Compiled by Saurabh K Pandya: unpublished proposal).
The research study on ‘multiple generations in the workplace’ is being done in collaboration with the SHRM India. The author would like to acknowledge the research support provided by Dr. Dedeep Dedeepya Ajith John and Dr. Maria Christine Nirmala of SHRM India towards this paper.
Most organisations in a rapid growth context add a large number of employees at the entry level which are usually customer facing individual contributor roles. Kotter and Sathe (1978) outlined some of the problems that face rapid employee growth organisations. One of the key problems is the speed at which decisions need to be made in such organisations. Since the time available for decision-making is limited and the entire process demands intellectual and emotional application, it tends to create enormous pressure, particularly among the new and young managers. Coupled with this, rapid growth puts pressure on the organisation structure and culture. The informal relationships that exist in the organisation are under stress because the organisation has hired a large number of new employees. Informal groups of ‘old timers’ have experienced significant critical events in the early stages of the organisation, and ‘new recruits’ who often come with higher qualification and skills are likely to be seen as ‘outsiders’. This process could result in cohort based generations that the organisation had not experienced earlier. This in turn could breed mistrust and lack of communication among employees. All of this could impede the smooth flow of communication, collaboration and team work within the organisation.
Another problem with rapidly growing firms is expanding job demands. The inability of the key managers to change their attitudes and behaviours in keeping with the changing needs of the organisation poses a challenge. Expanding job demands would require different ways of managing through formal and informal structures, and managers would need to engage in greater degrees of delegation and development, which they are unable to do effectively since there are not enough experienced people within the organisation to delegate to. Since there are fewer older people to socialise the large numbers of newly hired employees, there is a great deal of diversity in the manner in which young recruits experience socialisation. It is likely that there could be employees from the same cohort receiving very different socialisation experiences. These in turn could result in very different life experiences which could lead to intra generational challenges within the cohort in the long run. It is quite clear that rapid growth contexts tend to accentuate the phenomena of inter generational differences within an organisation.
The objective of this note is to provide a brief overview of the research in this field, identify gaps in the literature, highlight why the current conceptualisations of generations may be inappropriate in the Indian context and argue for a socio culturally embedded perspective to the definition of generations, and finally propose the notion that inter generational co-operation and collaboration is a critical element of success for organisations in the rapid growth context.
‘Generation’ as a construct is elusive and attempts have been made by scholars in various disciplines to unbundle this phenomenon (Joshi, Dencker, Franz, & Martocchio, 2010). Some scholars like Giancola (2006) suggest that ‘the generational approach may be more popular culture than social science’ (p. 33). Yet, generational studies have a long and distinguished place in the social sciences, and scholars have attempted to search for the unique and distinctive characteristics of generations for several decades now. Generation is defined as an ‘identifiable group that shares birth years, age location, and significant life events at critical developmental stages’ (Kupperschmidt, 2000, p. 66).
Differences between generations are theorised to occur because of major influences in the environment within which early human socialisation occurs; influences that have an impact on the development of personality, values, beliefs and expectations that, once formed, are stable into adulthood. Of particular significance to the generational approach are major shifts in the socio-cultural environment over time; this includes highly salient events that one generation experiences but another either does not, or experiences them outside of their critical socialisation years (Noble & Schewe, 2003; Twenge & Campbell, 2008). These potential salient socio-cultural events are numerous indeed, including wars and the consequences of wars (Noble & Schewe, 2003), new technologies resulting in major life and work changes in the developed economies, and significant changes to family and work patterns of special significance are the socio-economic events resulting in either relative scarcity or security for a group of people (Egri & Ralston, 2004). As each generation matures through such events, each generation is purported to develop characteristics that differentiate it from those that precede and follow it; characteristics that are reflected in personality traits, work values, attitudes, and motivations to work in ways presumed to be important to managers. (Macky, Gardner, & Forsyth, 2008)
To date most research in this field has been conducted in the US, UK and Canada. These studies have used the widely accepted practitioner definition of generations (Kupperschmidt, 2000) comprising four groups: Veterans, Baby boomers, Gen X and Gen Y (Applebaum, Serena, & Shapiro, 2004; Benson & Brown, 2011; Chen & Choi, 2008; Dulin, 2008; Fletcher et al., 2009; Gursoy, Maier, & Chic, 2008; Joshi et al., 2010; Karp & Sirias, 2001; Kim, 2008; McGuire, Todnem, & Hutchings, 2007; Meriac, Woehr, & Banister, 2010; Morgan & Ribbens, 2006; Murphy, Gibson, & Greenwood, 2010; Rood, 2011; Smola & Sutton, 2002; Wen, Jaska, Brown, & Dalby, 2010; Wong, Gardiner, Lang, & Coulon, 2008; Yu & Miller, 2005). The key characteristics of the different generations as identified in the above mentioned studies is provided below.
Veterans are also referred to as the Adaptive generation, Loyalists, Traditionalists, pre-Baby boomers, Silent generation, Matures, Greatest generation, Builders, Industrialists, Depression babies, Radio babies and the GI Joe generation. There is little agreement on the years encompassing this generation and the period between 1920/22/25 to 1943/45 has been used as a cut off for this generation. This generation was influenced by the Great Depression, World War II, and also saw the rise of television networks and mass marketing. Veterans view education as a dream and leisure as a reward for hard work. They desire stability in life, a predicted career ladder and are loyal and consistent. They also place a high value on integrity (Kim, 2008) and are dedicated (Schaming, 2005), hardworking and respect authority (Rood, 2011). The primary motivators for this generation are security and status (Schaming, 2005).
The forgotten generation, also known as the Woodstock generation, Sandwich generation and Vietnam generation (Murphy, 2007) has experienced the post-war stress and prosperity, was actively involved in radical social changes including the emergence of the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War, the women’s movement (Egri, & Ralston, 2004; Smola & Sutton, 2002), witnessed President Kennedy’s assassination (Morgan & Ribbens, 2006; Tolbize, 2008), the sexual revolution (Smola & Sutton, 2002) as well as rapid technology change. According to literature, the birth year of this generation ranges from 1940/42–46 to 1960/63–64. This generation mostly grew up in two-parent households, is idealistic, optimistic (Brennan, 2010: pp. 26–28; Notter, 2002) and looks for opportunity and progress (Chen & Choi, 2008).
This generation is often described as ‘self-absorbed’ (Notter, 2002). Boomers felt the pressure of caring for ageing parents and their own children. The generation has a lack of respect for loyalty, authority and social institutions (Kupperschmidt, 2000) and prefers self-gratification. The primary motivators for the employees of this generation are money, a corner office and self–realisation (Schaming, 2005).
Gen Xers are also known as Baby busters (Tolbize, 2008; Yu & Miller, 2005), Post boomers, Slackers, the Shadow generation, Generation 2000 and the MTV generation. Their birth years range from 1961/64–65 to 1975–83. This era experienced periods of economic prosperity and also stress due to the early 1980s recession (Krywulak & Roberts, 2009) and downsizing, family insecurity due to high divorce rates of parents, rapid change, great diversity and lack of solid traditions. While this generation supports social liberalism and environmentalism, they hold more conservative family values than the Baby boomers (Kupperschmidt, 2000). This cohort is realistic, self–reliant, entrepreneurial, independent, market savvy, fun loving and techno-literate (Rood, 2011); it seeks a balance between work and leisure (Chen & Choi, 2008). However, a few studies (Morgan & Ribbens, 2006) characterise Gen X as aimless and apathetic.
Gen Yers are also known as Millennials, Next generation, Generation me, Echo boomers, Nexters, the Boomlet, Digital generation, Dot com generation, Net Generation, N-Gens, Generation WWW, Digital natives, Ninetendo generation, Sunshine generation (Murphy, 2007), the Do or Die generation, the Wannabes, the Nothing is sacred generation, Cyberkids, the Feel good generation and Non-nuclear family generation. Their birth years range from 1977/79/81/82/84/94/97/2000 and are just beginning to enter the workforce.
Millennials have been brought up in the era of globalisation, employment outsourcing, foreign investments and a proliferation of information and communication technologies (Krywulak & Roberts, 2009), and have seen their parents in distrust situations like Gen X (Smola & Sutton, 2002). They have witnessed natural calamities like the tsunami and earthquakes, and terrorist attacks, including the 9/11 attack in America. They are more globally educated, view themselves with confidence, assertiveness and entitlement, are highly optimistic, goal oriented and idealistic (Chen & Choi, 2008). They like to voice their opinions and are work-oriented. They are connected 24∗7 on social networking sites and are very technologically adept. They are perceived to be healthier and more economically secure than any earlier generation. They have high expectations of self and employers (Armour, 2005) and believe in work life balance.
What is common across the various definitions described above is an attempt to distinguish a group of people in a time frame into distinct subgroups based on certain significant external events/forces. Given the different characteristics exhibited by the generations, it is inevitable that the focus of the studies has been on inter-generational differences. Based on the review of the literature, five categories of variables related to work, employment and organisations are identified which appear to be significantly different across generations. The five categories are work and life related values; motivators; professional growth; attitudes to rules; authority and hierarchy; attitudes to learning, training and development, and work environment. Inter-generational differences are found to impact all aspects of people management — recruitment (Charrier, 2000), training and development (Berl, 2006; Tulgan, 1996); career development (Ansoorian, Good, & Samuelson, 2003; McDonald & Hite 2008), rewards and working arrangements (Carlson, 2004; Filipczak, 1994) and management style (Losyk, 1997; Tulgan, 1996). The differences have the potential to cause serious conflict within the workplace (Karp & Sirias, 2001).
Challenges in the conceptualisation of generations
As is evident from the above discussion, there is a great deal of variation in the manner in which the birth years have been used to identify generations. While the generational differences exist across the various studies, defining generations remains specific to a given society, as the differences in any society are shaped by political, socio-economic and cultural events (Hole, Zhong, & Schwartz, 2010).
Research in the Asian context has tended to use the same categorisation of generations mentioned by Western scholars, even though many of the significant events mentioned in the context of the developed countries are not relevant in Asia (Turner, Mitchell, Hastings, & Mitchell, 2011; Yu & Miller, 2005). Some scholars (Yu & Miller, 2005) have found that the projected differences across generations in the global literature do not hold true in the Asian context. The few Asian studies on multi-generational differences did not have the same birth years across generations. Egri & Ralston (2004) identified four distinct generation cohorts in the Chinese context: Republican (born 1930–1950), Consolidation (born 1951–1960), Cultural Revolution (born 1961–1970), and Social Reform (born 1971–1975). It was found that recent generations in both countries share less rather than more similarity in personal values, supporting the importance of the national context in the development of cohorts.
Hole et al. (2010) propose distinctively different generations for the emerging countries arising out of their political, historical and cultural aspects of the tradition. Table 2 illustrates the differences in the categorisation of generations across different Asian countries. The heterogeneity of generations in the Asian context requires further investigation. We would like to posit that given the unique socio-cultural context of India and its diversity, there is an urgent need to understand the Indian generations.
|Generations||1st baby boomer||Danso generation||Shinjinrui or Bubble generation||2nd baby boomer or Dankai generation||Post bubble||Shinjinrui Junior or Generation Z||Yutori|
|Defining events||Post world war II, economic growth, leaders tried for war crimes, struggling with Hiroshima and Nagasaki bomb affects||Regains independence, reduction in military expenditure, infusions of American Aid||Student activism, became 2nd largest economic power||Economic impact of oil crises (1973), normalisation of relations with China||Economic impact of oil crises (1978)||Employment ice age, extreme changes to education system||Elections held against a background of bribery scandals and economic decline, earthquakes, recession, trade dispute with China|
|Characteristics||Possess great financial wealth, determined||Loyal,community spirit||Individualism,lack of requisite leadership skills required for their position||Spend thrifts, hardworking, adaptability||Individualistic, expressive||Bias towards stable corporate jobs||Lack of focus and discipline, individualism,technically competent|
|Generations||Post-50s generation||Post-60s generation||Post-70s generation||Post-80s generation||Post-90s generation|
|Defining events||Economic and political turmoil post People’s Republican in 1949||Cultural Revolution||Economic reforms, market liberalisation||One child policy||Restructuring of State Owned Enterprises, Recruiting for MNC’s|
|Characteristics||Hardworking,patriotic||Traditional outlook||Western outlook, lack in creativity, reserved||High expectations and minimal competition for attention due to one child policy, individualistic, confident, self centred, rebellious, innovative, open minded, no respect for authority||Capitalist,personal growth,money, information,tech savvy,spiritual|
|Generations||“475”generation||“386”generation||Gen X and Gen Y|
|Defining events||Post Korean war (1950–1953), destitution of post-colonial Korea, lived in slums, involved in pro-democracy movements||Decline in poverty, democratic protests, establishment of industrial economy||Economic growth due to focus on exports and Chaebol conglomerates, representative democracy in 1998, IMF crisis, stable government|
|Characteristics||Value hierarchy, tenure, responsibility, determined||Politically active, worry about social justice and environment protection, take economic growth for granted, live in dream world||Selective about careers, frequent job hoppers, optimistic, own decision making, no obligation to look after parents|
|Generations||Post war cohort||The trasition Cohort||The open economy cohort||The global cohort|
|Defining events||End of war with Khmer Rouge and China, and Cold War||Price-salary-money reform, collapse of Soviet Union||Success of market economy, multilateral foreign policy marked by Vietnam joining ASEAN,increase in foreign investment, development of private sector||Bilateral trade with US,accession to WTO, increasing internet offices,home, cafes, popularity of online games, chats, improvement in economy|
|Characteristics||Not spend thrifts, careful||Save money||Optimistic, risk averse, comfortable using technology||High risk taking,comfortable with technology,work better in teams and cross cultural environment|
Embedding generations in the socio-cultural context of India
Most scholars have recognised that Indian culture is not unitary and homogenous. Several scholars refer to India as a composite culture (Parekh, 2007). In a composite culture, each group has its own separate but overlapping regional, religious and linguistic cultures which are respected by and interact with their shared culture. The socio economic and cultural diversity is well documented. With 28 states, 22 officially recognised languages, about 1.2bn population, and home to all the major religions of the world, India is one of the most diverse countries in the world. The regional variations across the country are also high.
According to census data, the population of India is 1210 million (2011). Out of this, 29.7% of the population is between 0 and 14 years of age, 64.9% between 15 and 64 years of age and 5.5% above 65 years (Census of India, 2011). It is estimated that by 2020, 50% of the Indian population will be below 25 years of age (SHRM report1) and that the talent pools of younger people, under age 30 will have a grown by 5.6%. Table 3 throws light on the inter-regional variations in the age structure of the Indian population, which will have a bearing on the future work force of the country.
Note: AP: Andhra Pradesh; MP: Madhya Pradesh; TN: Tamil Nadu
Source: Census of India, 2011.
After liberalisation in 1991, different states in India have shown economic development at a varying pace. Therefore, as Dreze & Sen (as cited in Bijapurkar, 2007, p.5) mention, out of the 28 states, some Indian states are worse off than sub Saharan Africa, while others are better than China. Rural and urban India are at different stages of evolution; even within rural India, often within the same state, there are oases of development poised to leapfrog and become more developed than urban India.
Given this background, it is evident that any generational definition in the Indian context needs to reflect the current diversity. Some authors have attempted to categorise generations using the global framework. Roongrerngsuke, 2010 and Erickson, 2009 refer to four generations in India as shown in Table 4.
|Traditionalists||Baby boomers||Gen X/Socialist||Gen Y|
|Birth years||1922–1943/1946 (or) 1940–1950||1943–1960/1964 (or) 1946–1960/1964||1960/1964–1980 (or) 961/1965–1979||1980–2000 (or) 1980–1995|
|Defining events/influencers||British rule, British education system, food crisis, Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violence, civil disobedience campaign for independence, the end of British Raj, Gandhi’s assassination and the first Kashmir war, Indo – Pak war of 1947||Shift to socialist economic model under Indira Gandhi’s leadership, nationalisation of industries, public works, social reforms, public investment in education, growth of political factions, split of Indian national Congress, Sino- Indian war, Indo- Pakistan war of 1965, 1971, liberalisation of rupee and devaluation of the same, Indian Emergency of 1975)||Indira Gandhi’s assassination, reduction of stringent business regulations, lower restrictions on foreign investment/imports, reduced bureaucracy, expansion of telecommunication, software and IT sector, economic liberalisation, migration of IIT graduates to US, education taking over caste system||Development of large middle class, increased demand and production of consumer goods, Prime Minister Narasimha Rao’s economic liberalisation, reformed policies and growth, educational powerhouse, development of science and technology, communal violence, assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, respected source of IT talent, listing of Indian companies in Forbes global|
|Characteristics||Frustration, authority, hardship, social order and caste system, loyal to family and community||Pro-democracy, hardship, anxiety, fear, lack of trust and hierarchy, career options influenced by family and culture||Hardship, self-sufficient, belief in hierarchy and a socialist economy||Ambitious, emphasise financial reward, entrepreneurial, business savvy, technologically capable and adept|
Hole et al., 2010 in their article speak about three generations existing in India: the Traditional generation (1948–1968), the Non-traditional generation (1969–1980) and Gen Y (1981 onwards). Ghosh & Chaudhari, 2009, identified the three generations existing in India as the Conservatives, Integrators and Y2K, each having the birth years and characteristics depicted in Table 5.
|Defining events/influencers||Post- independence, famines, rigid protectionism, government interference, bureaucratic set-up, corruption, large families, rigid caste system||Moved from economic and physical security towards self-expression and quality of life, economic liberalisation, free markets, middle class dominating the workforce, inter- class -religion marriages, migration from rural to urban India, globalisation, influence of western culture, increase in readership of English consumer magazines, increase in tech services||Rise in economic reforms since 1991, high end technologies, increase in engineering colleges, increase in competition|
|Characteristics||Socialist, shy, obedient, national pride, stressing social conformity, technophobic, avid savers||Less conservative, tech savvy, ambition of becoming rich, government jobs no longer attractive||Loan is not considered a liability and is taken on credit, tech savvy and adept, value work-life balance and profession, fearless of aspirations|
With a plethora of categorisation of generations being provided in the Indian context, there is a need for a deeper and thorough understanding of the theme of multi-generations in the work place. None of the above definitions however take into consideration the differences that exist across states given their stage of economic development.
In a study done by Sinha et al. (1994), it was found that there were regional similarities and differences in people’s beliefs, practices and preferences across different cities in India. Seven hundred and fifty three students from seven cities reported on their perception of what others believed and the extent to which they attached importance to their own/others opinions, desires and interests. Five values emerged as different to the Western literature –embeddedness in one’s in-group, harmony and tolerance, duty in contrast to hedonism, preferences for personalised relationships and arranging persons, objects, ideas and relationships hierarchically. Three distinct clusters emerged out of the seven cities – Patna and Varanasi; Baroda, Lucknow and Kharagpur; and Chennai and Bangalore. Within cluster differences were small or non existent but across cluster differences were significant. In particular, in the context of this study, the values associated with work regarding taking time off from work to visit ailing relatives, entertaining friends in the workplace and direct reportees maintaining highly personalised relationships with their bosses differed significantly across the clusters. The common elements across the clusters were familial relationships, preference for hierarchy and maintenance of personalised relationships. All the three have implications at the workplace. (Sinha et al., 1994).
Apart from these cultural and sociological studies, the field of consumer research provides some valuable insights. In a report titled ‘Inside Facebook Gold’,2 it was found that older users are becoming a relevant user group in India. While India’s user base of Facebook between the age group of 18–25 years exceeds the average across the top 15 countries, the users in the age group of 35–44 grew by nearly 20% in the last year. The least active group in India is the age group 55–65. In the Juxt India Generations Study in 2010,3 it was found that nearly 300 million individuals are in the age group of 19–24 and about the same numbers in the age group of 25–39. For nearly 76% of the youth in the age group of 19–24, money is their most important priority in life followed by fame and status. Forty five percent of the youth feel that the neighbourhood they live in determines their status in society.
Another study (DeSouza, Kumar & Shastri, 2009) found that youth from small towns and Dalit and tribal youth have higher aspirations in life as compared to those from metropolitan cities and other forward castes. The family remains a key institution in the life world of the Indian youth with 55% of the respondents mentioning that they would like to bring up their children in more or less the same way as they were brought up and over 60% accepting that the final decision on marriage should be taken by parents.
All of these are indicative of the presence of certain co-existing social and cultural factors that impact the manner in which Indian youths experience life. We believe that this world view held by the young generation will impact its relationships at the workplace with other generations. These continuing generational values pertaining to life are likely to spill over into the organisational context and impact the performance and effectiveness of the employee and the organisation. The effect of these behaviours in organisations could have positive and negative consequences for all generations in an organisation.
Impact on organisational processes
There is much practitioner literature on inter generational conflict (Dulin, 2008; Krywulak & Roberts, 2009; McGuire et al., 2007). When multi-generations are present in the work force, the work values of the generations are likely to be different and this could result in tensions in the work force. The work values gap also impacts communication processes, problem solving processes, knowledge sharing processes, interpersonal relationships, leadership behaviours and management styles. From an HRM point of view, organisations and their leaders need to recognise the presence of multi-generational diversity and thereby engage with it more proactively. It is expected that a technologically savvy generation is likely to put pressure on a technology illiterate or neo literate generation to acquire this competence. In healthy organisations, this can manifest in supportive behaviours by various generations but this could also lead to conflict where one generation views its proficiency as an advantage over another. Therefore, organisations need to focus more on socialisation, orientation and citizenship behaviours on the part of the various generations.
The compensation policies, in particular the reward and recognition policies, are likely to differ across generations. In various studies, it has emerged that the motivators differ across generations. Some generations prefer security and stability more than the others. In terms of engagement with the organisation and communication expected from the organisation, there could be generational differences.
Past, present and future sets of employees in the organisation can be thought of as ‘generations’ (Wade-Benzoni, 2002). Since senior leaders often make long term decisions on behalf of organisations, successive generations need to fulfil those obligations and commitments. This manner of conceptualising multi-generational relationships allows for a collaborative model within organisations. However, the spaces where collaboration occurs across multiple generations in organisations is unclear and under researched.
As is evident from the above discussions, multi generation as a construct requires re-conceptualisation from both a theoretical and a practitioner perspective. The academic perspective note raises numerous conceptual questions which have implications for practitioners. The round table discussion that follows aims to engage with practitioners and shed light on several of the key issues identified in the note, particularly the conceptualisation of generations and their characteristics in the Indian workforce, the impact of multi-generations on leadership styles and managerial practices and the task of building collaboration across multi-generations in the work force.
Indian Institute of Management Bangalore (IIMB) is a public business school located in Bangalore, Karnataka, India. Founded in 1973, it was the third IIM to be established, after IIM Calcutta and IIM Ahmedabad.
It offers Post Graduate, Doctoral and executive training programmes. The Post Graduate Programme in Management (PGP), a two-year, full-time residential MBA programme is IIMB’s flagship programme. In addition to its main academic programmes, IIMB is also engaged in facilitating research, offering consultant services, conducting seminars and academic conferences and publishing journals.