There was a day in the not too distant past when flex time and work life programs were viewed primarily as benefits integral to attracting working Moms. Today, such programs are no longer just important for Moms: research shows that flexible work benefits are also vital to attracting and retaining the kids that all those working Moms nurtured, the so-called Generation Y workers. A new study on cross-generational work values points to this and other differences spanning Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y respondents.

Michael O’Brien reports on this study in his Battle of the Generations article in Human Resource Executive. The research is part of the University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future project, an ongoing study of the behaviors, attitudes, and values of American secondary school students, college students, and young adults.

In the study, “Generational Difference in Work Values: Leisure and Extrinsic Values Increasing, Social and Intrinsic Values Decreasing,” the authors analyzed data from samples of 16,507 U.S. high-school seniors in 1976, 1991 and 2006, representing baby boomers, Generation X and Generation Y. Each generation responded to the same questions at the same age (18), allowing a good comparison of how work values and the view of the workplace have changed over time. Questions covered extrinsic values, such as pay, benefits and status; intrinsic values, such as meaningful work; social values; altruistic values; and leisure values.
Among some of the central findings as reported by O’Brien:

  • The value placed on leisure has increased steadily over the generations, while the centrality of work declined.
  • Extrinsic values, such as the value placed on status or money, peaked with Generation X, but it is still higher among Generation Y than it was among boomers.
  • The value placed on the social aspect of work, as well as intrinsic values (e.g., interesting, results-oriented jobs), decreased over the generations.
  • Generation Yers place high value on work/life benefits such as flexible scheduling.

In New generation brings its values to work, Laura Raines offers her take on the study in the Atlanta Journal Constitutions, quoting professor Stacy M. Campbell, one of the study authors, as saying, “Up until now, the differences seen in the younger generation have been largely anecdotal, but now we have data to support the stories.”
Among other generational differences, Raines also highlights the importance of leisure time to Gen Y:

“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.”


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