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Do baby boomers work harder? New study says no

Wednesday, October 12, 2016 15:05
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If you’re a Millennial or Gen Xer who’s sick of Baby Boomers telling you your generation has a bad work ethic, you can take heart in a new study that found little difference among the three generations when it comes to work ethic.

The study team, whose work was published in the Journal of Business and Psychology, said they were inspired by the popular notion that Baby Boomers fueled the rise of the American middle class through so-called Protestant work ethic – a prioritization of hard work and strong professional ethics.

“The media and academia often suggest that baby boomers endorse higher levels of work ethic than the younger so-called Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980) and Millennials (born between 1981 and 1999),” said a news release on the study from Springer, the publisher of the Journal of Business and Psychology. “The jury is still out on whether or not such a generational difference actually exists.

Sampling for Work Ethic

In the study, researchers assembled a dataset of all published scientific studies that used a US sample to evaluate and report on the Protestant work ethic. Metrics for these studies included rates for job satisfaction, job performance, commitment to an employer and leisure time. Research included in the meta-analysis had to refer to the average age of the people surveyed. In all, 77 studies were reviewed.

The investigation did not find inconsistencies among the work ethic of the three generations. These findings support other scientific studies that discovered no difference in the work ethics of several generations when it comes to various variables. The study team did note one major difference: a greater work ethic in research on industrial workers as opposed to students.

“The finding that generational differences in the Protestant work ethic do not exist suggests that organizational initiatives aimed at changing talent management strategies and targeting them for the ‘very different’ millennial generation may be unwarranted and not a value-added activity,” said study author Keith Zabel of Wayne State University in Detroit. “Human resource-related organizational interventions aimed at building 21st-century skills should therefore not be concerned with generational differences in Protestant work ethic as part of the intervention.”


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