University News

Generational Differences

November 20, 2006

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MACOMB, IL – Teenagers around the world sigh their parents just don’t understand them because of their differences. Teenagers can now rejoice: your parents are different. At least, their work ethic is.

While Western Illinois University academic adviser Caryn Morgan was a graduate student obtaining her master’s of business administration in international relations and marketing, she researched the work ethic and motivation of the “Millennial Generation,” those students now in high school and college. She presented her research, “Generational Differences in the Workplace,” at the Midwest Academy of Management’s annual meeting in Louisville, KY Oct. 13.

“I became interested in the topic after noticing that the traditional-age college students didn’t seem to have the same work ethic as I did,” said Morgan. “I wanted to learn what really was going on.”

After Morgan studied other researchersÂ’ discoveries about generational differences, she wanted to pursue it further. She used Western as her research pool and surveyed WIU faculty, staff and students.

“Millennials are often perceived by prior generations to be less motivated, having a weaker work ethic or having less loyalty to the organization,” said Morgan.

MorganÂ’s findings, however, corroborated previous studies that the motivation tools offered to the Millennials often donÂ’t match their values.

“For example, a Millennial worker may want tuition reimbursement for training and the employer’s investment in his/her development will cause the worker to be loyal to the company, but a Baby Boomer may think investing in training for the employee to gain new or different skills will just prepare the employee to go to another company,” explained Morgan.

Many Millennials react this way, according to Morgan, because their parents had them later in life and they donÂ’t see the value of an entry-level job involving kindergartner-like tasks. Therefore, this generation needs outside motivation such as tuition reimbursement, pay raises and more flexible hours.

According to Barb Ribbens, an associate management professor who supervised MorganÂ’s research, there are many possible extensions to MorganÂ’s work including Western classes.

“You can’t really just tell a Millennial to do a research paper. They want an end goal with a clear definition of how long the paper should be,” said Morgan. “Millennials need specific parameters.”

Morgan has applied her research to help the students she advises in African American studies, foreign languages and literature, philosophy and religious studies and womenÂ’s studies.

“I can acknowledge the different perspectives between my generation and the students and help them to look for some reasons why they may not see eye-to-eye with a faculty or staff member,” said Morgan.

“As an example, Millennials tend to have respect for authority, but not be awed by it,” Morgan added. “They have grown up in an era where anyone can e-mail the White House.”

Many Millennials donÂ’t automatically use some of the formalities of the older generation, such as referring to professors by their title, because they might not value the title in the same way as the older generation, according to Morgan. She attempts to help her students understand their facultyÂ’s perspective to eliminate some of those tensions that might exist.

Her own experiences as a Western student have helped her in her advising career.

“Having the experience of being a student at WIU and now working for my alma mater is definitely a bonus because I have taken some of the same classes my students are enrolling in, sometimes with the same professors,” said Morgan.

According to Morgan, people must be aware that generational differences occur in order to overcome them.

“We should design programs to appeal to the younger generation and keep things interesting,” said Morgan.

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