Generation Y workers. An empirical framework for cultural and organizational aspects

Publication Date07 Oct 2019
AuthorDavide Torsello
SubjectHr & organizational behaviour,Industrial/labour relations,Employment law
Generation Y workers
An empirical framework for cultural and
organizational aspects
Davide Torsello
Department of Economics and Business,
Central European University, Budapest, Hungary and
Department of Anthropology, Stanford University, Palo Alto, California, USA
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to disentangle the different and sometimes controversial aspects of
Generation Y workersbehavior at the workplace and to provide real-life answers to human resource
management and the study of employee relations.
Design/methodology/approach The study makes use of an empirical research framework to assess
dominant preference s, values and patterns of behavior in wo rkplaces where Generation Y employ ees have
demographic relevan ce. The main research questions that this pape r will address are: RQ1: What are the
main features of organi zational culture that are deemed funct ionally important to their job satisfac tion by
Generation Y workers ? RQ2: Which are the gene ral societal and gene rational values that affect most
prominently their beha vioral responses to dut ies and tasks in the work place? RQ3: How do millenni al
workers perceive the ga p between a real and an ideal organizatio n in which they work in interactional and
behavioral terms? The me thodology includes a survey and int erviews conducted i n a multinational
corporation based in Budapest. The theoretical framework is the one developed by Margaret Mead(1970)
on value preferences a nd their generational change.
Findings When generational values and behavioral patterns are not in harmony with the
proper organization al cultural aspects of t he company high attrit ion rates become manif est. Generation
Y workers can be defined as cofigurate culture (Mead, 1970) in the sense that this generation
encapsulates innova tive aspects in some bridging features to t he previous generation (Generation X ). This
is one of the aspects that may a ccount for the conflicti ng social and work values t hat characterize work
relations between Gen eration Y and X employees. M oreover, because of the t hree different domain s on
which work satisfactio n is built (social, orga nizational and cultu ral) Generation Y worke rs will aim to
strike a balance betwe en expectations, ide as about what a good organ ization should look lik e and
real-life experienc es.
Research limitations/implications Since the research concerns only one company case study, its scope
is limited. In particular, empirical approaches to the study of employee relations with Generation Y workers
are still few and more research is needed to fill this gap.
Practical implications Millennial workers are no t simply part of a differen t generation, as they
actually share some value aspects and orientations of the previous generation. The practical
implication is that the be havioral and organiz ational features that b ridge Generation X and Y
preferences should be de tected in order to impro ve employee relations . Second, paying attent ion to
the social, cultural an d organizational featu res that Generation Y work ers deem as important whe n
describing their daily work experiences, it is possible to limit miscommunication and reduce
attrition rates.
Social implications The study of generational features and tendencies at the workplace is an important
social field since it brings new insights into work relations and leadership. Treating the Generation Y as a
cofigurate culture helps to bring together cultural and social preferences with values built on the workplace
and in the social context of belonging.
Originality/value The paper provides an origin al contribution to the study of generationa l, social and
organizational aspec ts concerning the dai ly work experience of mi llennials in a corporat ion. The study
builds an empirical frame work in which the value aspects t hat shape the everyday reali ty of employee
relations are measured and t riangulated with qualit ative data from ethnograph ic interviews. This paper
can be of interest both to a cademic and to practitioners, tha nks to its strong practical applica tion to human
resource management .
Keywords Leadership, Human resource management, Organizational culture, Cross-cultural management,
Social values, Millennials
Paper type Research paper
Employee Relations: The
International Journal
Vol. 41 No. 6, 2019
pp. 1330-1347
© Emerald PublishingLimited
DOI 10.1108/ER-03-2018-0083
Received 21 March 2018
Revised 3 May 2018
6 February 2019
21 February 2019
Accepted 22 February 2019
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
This paper deals with the topic of the tension between social and generational aspects of the
millennial workforce and the organizational culture of their workplaces. The main assumption of
the paper is that a large portion of the specialized literature in management, human resource
management and organizational behavior presents rather contradictory findings on the causes
and relevance of this tension. This paper will attempt to address this gap by, first, sketching out
the main controversies in the study of the personal and social values which are typical of the
millennial generation; second, introducing a hybrid empirical framework that looks at the societal
values typical of members of this generation; and their perception of the salience of features of the
organizational culture of their workplace; and presenting and analyzing empirical data collected
in one multinational corporation. The final outcome will be a framework for data analyses
regarding generational, societal and organizational cultural features that makes it possible to
tackle in a dynamic way the problem of high turnover in this stratum of company employees.
You have neverbeen young in the world I am youngin,writes Margaret Mead (1970),the
author of what is usually taken to be the first academic work dealing with the idea of a
generationalgap, Culture and Commitment.A Study of the Generation Gap. In her book,Mead
attempts to identify the three main generational configurations that, acrosscultures, influence
changes of values, life-views and patterns of behavior and social interaction. The first, the
postfigurativeculture, emphasizes conditions of temporal stability, deference to elderly
authority and the common agreement that sharedvalues ought to be imported from the past
(p. 9). Cofigurativecultures, on the other hand, embody generational differences in a more
balanced way. Here,the younger population may follow the projected patterns of behavior of
the elders, but it is theirpeers that present them with morepractical models than those of the
elders, officers,teachers and officials whosepast is inaccessible to them, and whosefuture it is
difficult for them to seeas their own(Mea d, 1970, p. 40). Finally, prefigur ativecultures are
those in which tradition is of little help. Here the generation gap reaches its maximum
extension, since the young population finds no raw models from which to draw inspiration,
apart from its own personal experience, which is rather shallow. This paper applies Meads
approach to the generational gap to the case of millennials in the workplace, focusing on a
single organization studied through qualitative and quantitative research. The main
argument is that the millennials studied empirically here exhibit the main features of
cofigurative cultures: they experience their own difference from past generational groups,
while nonetheless possessing some impulse to bridge toward earlier generations. This
combination of traits can appear contradictory, and it often creates, in the literature on
millennials at work, a sort of ambiguity in depicting those behavioral, social and
organizational aspects that characterize this generation (Guillot-Soulez and Soulez, 2014).
Generational gaps usher in different forms of commitment to ones culture of belonging;
they can be stronger or weaker according to the patterns of cultural change. In industrial
societies, comparison with the past becomes increasingly out of place because of the
irreversibility of the technological changes that have taken place in the last two centuries,
and because what is incomparable is not the speed of change but the nature of its process
(Mead, 1970, pp. 66-67). One typical scholarly expression of such a gap is the abundant
literature on millennials, also often called Generation Y. This generation, which includes
those born in the period 19802000, will make up more than two-thirds of the worlds
working population in 2025 (Millennial Branding, 2014). Their values, choices and ideas
about the workplace are the object of extensive study in multiple disciplines (management,
sociology, psychology, organizational behavior and organization studies). Interestingly, in
spite of the very rich existing literature, to which some space is dedicated below, there is
very little agreement on the nature of the generational gap embodied in this group. Because
empirical research is not abundant, the ways in which millennials in the workplace are
studied are sometimes contradictory, making assumptions or reaching conclusions that
seem to add comparatively little to the general debate (Russell and Patrick, 2017).
Generation Y

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