At the heart of any generation gap lie differing values, priorities and ideals. Whether you are talking about counter-cultural baby boomers bucking the sociopolitical norms of the "Greatest Generation," or civic-minded millennials demanding more accountability and responsibility from the baby boomers at their organizations' helms, tensions between generations can be attributed to differences in what they value and find important. Therefore it is necessary to examine what these generations value, what makes them happy and how these things might differ among them -- especially at work.
Popular wisdom and empirical research suggest the millennials are interested in the social good and are attracted to organizations that function by a higher standard of ethical and socially responsible conduct (Hewlett, Sherbin, & Sumberg, 2009; Strauss & Howe, 1991). On the other hand, empirical research also supports the idea that millennials are self-centered and motivated more by extrinsic rewards like salary (Twenge, 2010). So, which is it? Will they insist on meaningful contributions to society from their organizations or simply settle for a big pay check?
In addition to millennials in the U.S., what about the young adult generation in other countries; will these young people across the world help improve it by demanding more ethical and socially responsible organizations? Testing generational differences is a challenge made even more complicated by looking across countries. Generations in various countries are defined differently—not only are population demographic changes different depending on countries’ historical events or societal norms (e.g., long-term civil war in Somalia, the one-child policy in China), but these historical events themselves will likely affect its citizens more strongly whereas people outside of the country might be aware of, but largely unaffected by these events (e.g., Hurricane Katrina in the U.S.).
On the other hand, as individuals are increasingly interconnected through technology and social media, generations in various countries may coalesce. For example, online media outlets reported minute-by-minute updates on the 2011 nuclear plant meltdown in Japan, bringing the drama of that situation to citizens of the world. Perhaps that news coverage provided a common factor that will shape the youngest generation regardless of the country they call “home.” Might the cultural distance between countries be shrinking due to technological advances, resulting in a young generation that is similar in some ways across the globe?
Overall we wanted to examine whether U.S. millennials differ from their older counterparts, and whether the young adult generation is similarly different from their elders internationally. To answer these questions we looked at the value placed on certain business practices by different generations across countries. Specifically, we examined whether the relative importance of socially responsible and ethical business practices to turnover intentions differed between young, middle-aged and mature adults in a multi-country sample of full-time workers. But first we discussed the challenges of international generational research and described our strategy for coping with these problems.
THE CONUNDRUM OF COMPARING GENERATIONS ACROSS COUNTRIES
The term “generation” refers to a group of people that has experienced the same historical and life events at about the same time in their lives (Ryder, 1965). Generation members are born, start school, get married, have children and retire around the same time in history. Furthermore, generation members are approximately the same age when wars are waged and won or lost, technological breakthroughs happen and events occur that have the potential to shape society. Therefore each generation is characterized and differentiated by certain beliefs, values, interests and other traits that were shaped by historical events experienced at the same developmental life-stage.
Young adulthood is a particularly important time in the formation of generational traits. Research has demonstrated younger and older people experience historical events differently, with young adulthood being a particularly impressionable stage (Duncan & Agronick, 1995; Noble & Schewe, 2003). Further psychological and biological research support the impressionability of young adults, especially in terms of attitude formation (Krosnick & Alwin, 1989; Visser, & Krosnick, 1998), the malleability of personality (Roberts, Walton, & Viechtbauer, 2006) and europlasticity (Sowell, Peterson, Thompson, Welcome, Henkenius, & Toga, 2003; Sowell, Thompson, Holmes, Jernigan, & Toga, 1999).
As people are more connected by technology across the globe and the world seems ever smaller, the issue of generational differences at work is increasingly salient to multi-national organizations. The identity of any one generation however may vary drastically across countries. Differences may occur due to at least two country-specific reasons: historical events and demographic trends.
A country’s geographical location will likely dictate which historical events its inhabitants experience. The traits that characterize a generation born during the same time period may differ across countries because they have experienced different historical events. Similarly, demographic phenomena such as childbirth rates or infant mortality rates that change the ebb-and-flow of sheer population size differ by country. Generational boundaries (i.e., which birth years define a generation) are often assigned in part based on the peaks and valleys of population size. Therefore each country’s generations’ boundaries may vary accordingly. These differences pose a challenge in the study of generations across countries, leaving cross-cultural generational researchers in a quandary.
When comparing U.S.-centric generations to non-U.S. countries, we found it makes the most sense to think and write about generations as developmental age groups1. If generations have different birth-year boundaries across countries, then comparing them would only lead to more confusion. For example, if we were to compare the U.S. millennials (generally ascribed to 1980 to 2000) to Post-80s in China (born 1980 to 1989), then we would not be able to attribute differences definitively to generational effects; differences between the two groups could also be attributed to the different agecompositions within each of them. To make meaningful comparisons between generational groups across countries we must compare groups with the same birth-year boundaries.
Given the previously discussed importance in generational theory of the impressionable period known as young adulthood, a reasonable alternative to using country-identified generational groups is to simply compare developmental age groups across countries. Young adults who experienced country-specific historical and social events could be compared across countries at different time periods to examine generational effects.
Therefore we split our sample into three age-based generational cohorts. The first generation is young adult employees (aged 18 to 29 in 2010), which corresponds to U.S. millennials. The second generation is middle-aged adult employees (aged 30 to 49 in 2010), which corresponds to the U.S. generation X or gen Xers. The third generation is mature adult employees (aged 50 to 65), which corresponds to the baby boom generation or boomers. When we examined generation effects in the U.S. we used the millennials nomenclature, but when we compared generations across countries we referred to the “young adult generation.”
ARE MILLENNIALS THE NEXT GREAT GENERATION IN THE U.S. WORKFORCE?
The ebb-and-flow of generations change society through what has been called “demographic metabolism” (Ryder, 1965). According to generation theory people are changed by, but also change the world around them. Each new generation is socialized by elders into the existing culture, but also simultaneously adds new characteristics resulting from its unique reactions to historical events of the time. Not only does the new generation’s shared experience define its identity and differentiate it from its elder counterparts, this new identity also works as a change agent to counteract conservative forces and spur on social change (Mannheim, 1952; Ryder, 1965).
Generation theory could be generalized to an organizational context; as new generations enter the workforce they might act as a change agent across organizations as well as in society at large. In the U.S. workforce a major changing of the guard is currently underway: the exodus of the boomers and the rise of the gen Xers and millennials. By 20292, the U.S. workforce will have waved good-bye to the boomers, leaving gen Xers and millennials at the helms of their organizations. At the mid-point of the boomer exodus in 2018, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects average employment growth from 2008 to 2018 of 8.68 percent in the supervisorial, managerial and executive ranks, equalling 105,200 additional positions3. It is estimated in 2011 boomers occupy 23 percent of managerial and leadership positions, the first wave of millennials already in the workforce occupy 28 percent, and gen Xers occupy the remainder. Millennials haven’t finished ascending to the highest levels of leadership—yet. But when they do ascend to the upper echelons of organizations, will millennials’ unique characteristics compel them to lead industry in a different way?
As millennials continue to enter the workforce, gen Xers continue to climb their organizations’ ladders and boomers continue their exodus, we attempted to peer into the future of work by shining a light on these generations. As boomers pass the torch to gen Xers and millennials, we hope they will be both ethical and socially responsible citizens of their organizations, country and world. But will they?
Many employees in the U.S. workforce today, especially those in their 40s in 2010, spent their formative years in a culture of environmental awareness and corporate accountability for human-caused environmental disasters. By the late 1980s global warming began to emerge as a serious concern for scientists, politicians and the public (e.g., the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was created in 1988). The Exxon Valdez oil spill, which occurred on March 24, 1989, spurred strong popular and political reactions: the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 holds oil companies accountable for the prevention and cleanup of future spills. According to generation theory, these historical events may have made strong impressions on young adults at that time, and as a result this group of people should be differentiable from other groups who did not experience those events at that life stage. Specifically, we might expect employees who are in their 40s in 2010, who are often referred to as part of generation X (born between the years 1961 and 1981), to place greater emphasis and value on their organizations’ socially responsible behaviors.
Empirical research on generational differences tells a different story. Millennials are more self-centered than their elders (Twenge, 2010); self-esteem has been steadily increasing across generations (Twenge & Campbell, 2001) and narcissism has increased from gen Xers to millennials (Twenge, Konrath, Foster, Campbell, & Bushman, 2008). Millennials are not more altruistic and charitable than their elders (Twenge, Campbell, Hoffman, & Lance, 2010), a finding supported by a volunteerism rate among millennials that is lower than their elder counterparts and has been further declining since 20035. Given the theoretical argument that gen Xers might be more aware of their organizations’ impact on their communities and the empirical evidence suggesting millennials are more selfcentered, we offered the following hypothesis (H1):
U.S. millennials will not place greater value on socially responsible organizational practices than gen Xers and/or boomers.
Another large group of employees in the U.S. workforce, millennials in their late 20s and early 30s in 2010, came of working age in a climate of corporate scandal. In early 2000, when young adult millennials born in the early 1980s were just beginning to enter the workforce, corporate scandals dominated the news (e.g., the Enron, Arthur Andersen and WorldCom scandals) and heightened our collective awareness of organizations’ accountability and ethical conduct (e.g., Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002). Having grown up in this milieu, we might expect U.S. millennials to place greater value on ethical business practices. Contrary empirical research indicates U.S. boomers exhibit the highest levels of morality (e.g., treating people fairly), followed by millennials and lastly gen Xers (Meriac, Woehr & Banister, 2010). Given these results, we might expect boomers to place a greater value on ethical organizational practices. Given conflicting theoretical arguments and empirical evidence, it is more appropriate to pose a research question than posit a specific hypothesis. Therefore, we posed the following research question (RQ1):
In the U.S., do millennials place greater value on ethical organizational practices than gen Xers and/or boomers?
But what about the young adult generation in the global workforce? We might expect differences due to country-specific historical events and demographic trends. On the other hand, we might expect similarities given the worldwide impact of environmental calamities and international ubiquity of corporate scandals. We might also expect similarities because of the speed and transparency of communication through technology. Given these opposing arguments, we asked the following research question (RQ2):
Do U.S. millennials and the young adult generation in other countries value corporate social responsibility (CSR) and business ethics similarly?
In sum, this paper had two primary goals. First, we examined whether ethical and socially responsible organizational practices are valued differentially by U.S. generations in the 2010 workforce, focusing on how millennials differed from gen Xers and boomers. Second, we examined whether millennials’ traits generalized to the young adult generation of non-U.S. countries. The results presented in this paper will address whether millennials in the U.S. are in fact more civic-minded than gen Xers and boomers, and whether young adult workers across the world share this trait.
METHOD: THE KENEXA® HIGH PERFORMANCE INSTITUTE WORKTRENDS™ SURVEY
WorkTrends™ is an employee opinion survey administered by the Kenexa® High Performance Institute (KHPI) since 1984. Over the years, WorkTrends has provided a wealth of information about work attitudes, leadership effectiveness and organizational practices in the U.S. Since its beginning in 2007, the WorkTrends survey has expanded to include data from the world’s largest economies. In 2011, the WorkTrends survey was taken online by over 30,000 volunteer panelists in 28 countries. Survey content varies somewhat from one administration to the next, based on topical relevance, client interest and the Institute’s research agenda. We used data from the 2010 administration of WorkTrends to test our hypotheses, because that administration is the most recent one that included measures of both CSR and business ethics. Table 1 presents demographic characteristics of the data.
Respondents were recruited from a survey vendor’s online volunteer panels. Respondents had registered with the vendor using their email address and the vendor had sent them periodic emails advertising current surveys. The vendor rewarded respondents with points for survey completion, which they can use to enter sweepstakes, purchase gift cards or trade for cash. The vendor promised its panel members anonymity and did not release unique identifiers to its clients. The vendor allowed each respondent (identified by his/her email) to complete the survey only once.
In 2010 the total sample was drawn from 22 different countries. In the total sample all respondents were screened for age (at least 18 years old), full-time employment status (at least 32 hours per week) and organization size (at least 100 staff members in most countries). For our study we used a sub-sample of the total 2010 sample. Only national citizens of their respective countries were included (i.e., expatriates were excluded from the working sample). Respondents also needed to be a member of one of three major U.S. generations (i.e., millennials, gen Xers and boomers). After screening the total sample in 2010, the working sample sizes by country are presented in Table 27.
DEFINING AND OPERATIONALIZING "VALUE"
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, to value is "to rate or scale in usefulness, importance or general worth ("value"). Often to evaluate something we must rate it in terms of some desired outcome (e.g., money). In an organizational context, low turnover intentions among staff is arguably a desired outcome. According to data from WorkTrends 2010, almost a third of employees internationally are seriously considering leaving their organization. Consider that number in light of the cost of replacing staff, which one source estimates at between one and two years of an employee’s entire salary (Fitz-Enz, 1997), and the negative impact on multiple organizational outcomes (Shaw, 2011). Organizational leaders justifiably worry about how to keep their employees from voluntarily leaving the organization. Therefore we defined the value placed on socially responsible and ethical business practices as their importance to turnover intentions.
We operationalized "value" as the relative importance of CSR and business ethics in predicting turnover intentions. Relative importance is "the proportionate contribution each predictor makes to R2, considering both the unique contribution of each predictor by itself and its incremental contribution when combined with the other predictors" (Johnson & LeBreton, 2004, p. 238). Relative importance was estimated with Relative Weights Analysis (RWA; Johnson, 2000). RWA is a technique developed to cope with biased estimates of relative importance due to correlated predictors, a very common problem in surveys like WorkTrends. Correlated predictors violate a major assumption of multiple regression, and yield potentially misleading regression coefficients (i.e., effect sizes will depend largely on predictor order). If the predictors have a meaningful order, then this isn’t really a problem. However, researchers often use standardized regression coefficients to interpret the relative importance of predictors that have no theoretically based sequence. In such cases, invalid inferences may be drawn due to inaccurate estimates.
RWA provides a solution to this problem through a four step process. First, the original predictors are rotated to obtain orthogonal predictors. Second, the criterion is regressed onto these orthogonal predictors to obtain criterion-on-orthogonal standardized regression coefficients. Third, each of the original predictors is regressed onto all the orthogonal predictors, to obtain a set of original-on-orthogonal standardized regression coefficients, one set for each original predictor. Fourth, for each original predictor, every criterion-on-orthogonal coefficient and its corresponding original-on-orthogonal coefficient are squared and multiplied together, and these product terms are summed. This summed value is that original predictor’s relative weight; the fourth step is repeated for each original predictor.All of the relative weights should sum approximately to R2, and they can be expressed as a percentage of the total variance explained. For a more detailed and technical description of RWA, see Johnson (2000).
Power and sample size requirements in RWA are approximately similar to those in multiple linear regression; power is a matter of effect size, sample size, number of predictors, predictor multicollinearity and nominal alpha level (Tonidandel, LeBreton, & Johnson, 2009). Interestingly, power increases (and thus sample size requirements decrease) with the number of predictors and the degree of multicollinearity (Tonidandel & LeBreton, 2011), though their impact is small in magnitude (Tonidandel, et al, 2009). Because relative weights are a new kind of effect size, we do not know the shape of the population distribution, and so have to use bootstrapping to estimate the standard errors, making significance testing cumbersome, though not impossible. But in RWA type I error rates are conservative, which means the probability of making a type I error is actually lower than nominal alpha (Tonidandel, et al, 2009). If our minimum sample size is 100 per countryby- generation cell, effect size is medium (R2 = .25), nominal alpha is .05, and we have four predictors, then power is very good (β = .99)8. Therefore we concluded the probabilities of making type I and type II errors are reasonably low enough to be generally confident about our estimates.
In our analyses the two focal variables are business ethics and corporate social responsibility, both of which were measured by WorkTrends 2010. Business ethics is defined as the extent to which an organization and its leaders engage in and support ethical behavior and the open discussion of ethical behavior violations. Business ethics was measured with three KHPI WorkTrends items that assess agreement (on a five-point scale) to comments like "ethical violations can be discussed openly at my organization," "senior leaders at my organization conduct themselves ethically," and "my direct manager supports ethical behavior."
Corporate social responsibility is defined as the extent to which an organization supports and contributes to the environment at large and the community in which it operates. Business ethics was measured with four KHPI WorkTrends items that assess agreement (on a five-point scale) to comments like "my organization supports the environment," "my organization's business gains are balanced with community gains," "my organization contributes to my community" and "my organization is genuinely committed to being socially responsible." In our analyses the criterion variable is turnover intentions, which are defined as a psychological readiness to actually turnover. It was measured by a single item rated on a five-point agreement scale that asked respondents how seriously they were considering leaving their organization in the next 12 months (excluding those who were planning to retire).
Given the breadth of content covered by the WorkTrends survey, we were able to include several important predictors of turnover intentions that are were not the primary focus of this study. In a meta-analysis of the existing literature Griffeth, Hom and Gaertner (2000) summarized the many antecedents of turnover. Two important antecedents identified by Griffeth and colleagues were measured by the WorkTrends survey in 2010: overall job satisfaction and pay fairness. Both were included in the analyses as control variables. Descriptive statistics and correlations for all measures are presented in Table 3.
Before culturally different groups can be meaningfully compared, we must establish that respondents across countries are interpreting measures similarly (i.e., we must establish measurement invariance; Meredith, 1993). We evaluated the equivalence of the variance-covariance structure of each measure across countries using multiple-group confirmatory factor analysis (for multi-item scales) and Levene’s test of homogeneity of variance (for single item scales). The multiitem CSR and business ethics scales demonstrated negligible decrements in model fit when the variance-covariance structure was constrained to be equal across countries, indicating adequate measurement invariance. The single item measures of turnover intentions, job satisfaction and fair pay violated the homogeneity of variance assumption across countries. However, statistical significance was somewhat expected given our large sample sizes. To evaluate practical significance we computed the variability of each item’s variance across countries; for turnover intentions it was 0.07, for fair pay it was .04 and for job satisfaction it was 0.04, all of which are small and suggest each item’s variance actually varies only a little across countries. Therefore we concluded these items evidenced adequate measurement invariance, despite having rejected the null hypothesis that variances are equal across groups.
The direct effects of generation and country on the perceptions of socially responsible and ethical organizational practices are presented for context. For both CSR and business ethics we ran a two-way analysis of variance with generation and country factors (Table 4). The young adult generation observed more socially responsible and ethical business practices in their organizations, though these differences are small (Figure 1). Notably, the interaction between generation and country is not statistically significant for either CSR or business ethics, which suggests these generational differences are similar across countries.
The relative importance of both CSR and business ethics to turnover intentions are presented by U.S. generation in Table 5. Overall job satisfaction is by far the most important to turnover intentions across generations, while fair pay, CSR and business ethics are much less and roughly equally important across generations. The relative weights of both CSR and business ethics varied little by U.S. generation, and what differences did exist were associated with boomers instead of millennials. Boomers valued socially responsible and ethical business practices more than gen Xers and millennials, though these differences were small. These provide support for H1 and answer RQ1.
These results are corroborated by other data from the 2010 WorkTrends survey. We asked employees to explain why they joined their current organization by allocating 100 points across 26 categories, including the meaningfulness of the organization’s societal contribution. The average number of points allotted to this category did not vary by generation (F(2)= 1.47, p = .23, η2 = .00), nor did generation interact with country (F(38) = 1.07, p = .35, η2 = .00)9.
Tables 6 and 7 present summary results from the analyses conducted to determine the value placed on socially responsible and ethical business practices by the young, middle-aged and mature adult generations across 10 countries (more detailed results are presented in Appendix A). Beginning with the relative importance of CSR to turnover intentions, Table 6 presents these results by generation across countries. The relative weights vary substantially by generation and country. The value of socially responsible organizational practices to young adults’ varies substantially across countries. This alone answers RQ2a: U.S. millennials and the young adult generation in other countries do not necessarily value CSR similarly, though some similarities do exist across countries. Among countries examined, the young adult generation in Canada values socially responsible organizational practices the most (RW% = 26 percent) and in the Netherlands the least (RW% = 4 percent) with U.S.millennials in between them (RW% = 9 percent). The value placed on CSR by U.S. millennials is most similar to young adults in Finland and Italy (RW% = 10 percent). Unlike U.S. millennials the young adult generation in English-speaking Canada and the UK place more value on CSR than their older counterparts in those countries. Also unlike U.S. millennials, the middle-aged adult generation in Australia, Denmark, Germany, Italy and Sweden place more value on CSR than their young and mature adult counterparts. Like U.S. millennials, the mature adult generation in Finland and the Netherlands place more value on CSR than their younger counterparts.
Table 7 presents the relative importance of business ethics to turnover intentions by generation across countries. Again, the relative weights vary substantially by generation within country, and this answers RQ2b: U.S. millennials and the young adult generation in other countries do not necessarily value business ethics similarly, though again some similarities exist across countries. Among countries examined, the young adult generation in Denmark values ethical business practices the most (RW% = 38 percent) and in Germany the least (RW% = 6 percent) with U.S. millennials in between (RW% = 14 percent). The value placed on business ethics by U.S. millennials is most similar to young adults in Sweden (RW% = 13 percent). Unlike U.S. millennials, the young adult generation in Denmark places substantially more value on ethical business practices than their older counterparts. Also unlike U.S. millennials the middle-aged adult generation in Finland, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands value business ethics more than their young and mature adult counterparts. Like U.S. millennials, the mature adult generation in Australia, English-speaking Canada and the UK place more value on business ethics than their younger counterparts.
As the new generation dawns and the old generation sets in companies across the globe, organizational leaders and social commentators speculate about how businesses and the cultureat- large are bound to change. In our study we sought to contribute some empirically-derived insights to this debate. Specifically, we examined whether U.S. millennials valued socially responsible and ethical business practices more than older workers in relation to an important organizational outcome: turnover intentions. We further examined whether these differences were similar across nine other countries.
U.S. MILLENNIALS ARE NEITHER OUR SAVIORS NOR OUR RUIN
In the U.S. at least two very different pictures of millennials emerge from the popular and academic literatures. The first portrays them as socially responsible custodians of their organizations and the societies in which they operate. The second colors them in a markedly different light: as moneydriven and self-centered corporate citizens. Our results suggest these young adults are not the revolutionary environmentally and socially conscious beacons of light we had hoped they would be.
We found U.S. millennials, like gen Xers and boomers, place the most value on their own job satisfaction when considering leaving their organization. Fair pay, CSR, and business ethics mattered much less and to varying degrees across generations. In contradiction to popular wisdom, U.S. millennials do not seem to be the most civic-minded of the U.S. generations in the 2010 workforce; that honor goes to boomers. Among the U.S. generations, boomers place the most value on both business ethics and CSR. In fact, millennials place the most value on fair pay among the generations, though only slightly so. Still, millennials value ethical and socially responsible organizational practices as much as gen Xers and only slightly less than boomers; overall the generations are more similar than different.
Despite not placing greater value on CSR and business ethics, we did find millennials in the U.S. (and the young adult generation in non-U.S. countries) report higher levels of socially responsible and ethical business practices in their organizations. This could be for many reasons. Millennials may be attracted to and select into organizations with a reputation for socially responsible and ethical business practices. However, this hypothesis seems unlikely given generations across countries attribute about equal weight to an organization’s societal contributions when deciding whether to join. Alternatively, millennials may simply be more aware of socially responsible and ethical business practices their organizations engage in and therefore report observing more of them.
Taken together these results suggest an organization’s reputation as a responsible member of the community is important to U.S. millennials when deciding to leave or join an organization, but these practices are not more important to them than their elders. Therefore in support of H1 and in answer to RQ1 U.S. millennials do not place greater value on socially responsible and ethical organizational practices than gen Xers or boomers. While some pundits have already canonized millennials as socially conscious organizational citizens who will demand the highest standards of ethical conduct and corporate accountability within their communities, in reality they probably will not save the world through work. Nor will they lead us down the road to ruin; they are just as socially aware as gen Xers and only slightly less civic-minded than boomers.
WHO & WHERE IS THE NEXT GREAT GENERATION?
Similar to U.S. millennials, the young adult generation in other countries place the greatest value on their own job satisfaction when deciding whether to leave their organization. Here the similarity ends; though the value placed on business ethics and CSR does not vary substantially by generation in the U.S. we observed a significant degree of variation when we expanded from a U.S.-centric to an international scope. This could be for at least two reasons. First, generations in other countries may not have the same birth-year boundaries as U.S. generations due to different demographic trends. Second, country-specific historical events may have impacted these generations in such a way that differentiates them from U.S. generations and generations in other countries. One thing is certain: characteristics of U.S. generations may not necessarily generalize across countries.
Internationally, the young adult generation seldom placed more value on CSR and business ethics than their elders; only young adults in Denmark placed more value on ethical business practices, and only those in the UK and Canada (English-speaking) placed more value on CSR. Contrary to the rhetoric around U.S. millennials and the young adult generation internationally, except in those three countries mentioned above, middle-aged and mature adults consistently valued socially responsible and ethical business practices more than their juniors.
PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS FOR MANAGING MILLENNIALS
Based on our results, we concluded U.S. millennials value the altruistic and moral goals of CSR and ethical business practices no more than their generational predecessors. Applying these findings to the workplace, organizations may need to re-think their approach to attracting and keeping millennials. At least in the U.S., as Twenge (2010) suggested, recruitment initiatives that emphasize socially responsible and ethical business behaviors may not be more effective at enticing members of the younger generations to join their organization. Rather these initiatives should be about equally effective across generations, though most effective on boomers. Importantly, our results did not suggest such initiatives are ineffective at attracting key young talent; U.S. millennials do value ethical and socially responsible practices. Rather these initiatives will not necessarily help organizations target millennials to join or prevent them from leaving the organization. Advice for managing the young adult generation across the globe is a little more varied: in Canada, the UK and Denmark these initiatives may be more effective when targeted at the young adult generation.
LIMITATIONS AND FUTURE RESEARCH
This study is just one step of many; due to the limits of our data, we could not definitively parse apart the effects of age and generation. Therefore future research should follow these generations defined by the aforementioned birth-year boundaries through time as their members age. If consistent within group similarities that differentiate between generations emerge over subsequent studies, then that evidence would suggest these differentiating characteristics are due to generational rather than age or period effects.
U.S. millennials are young adults in 2010, an impressionable time according to generational theorists. Historical events occurring near this time (e.g., the Great Recession, the Occupy Wall Street movement) should affect and differentiate millennials from other generations both past and future. Focus group interviews or a critical incidents study would help identify those events millennials are most influenced by and inform our characterizations of these future organizational leaders.