Challenges and Opportunities
New Horizons in Management series
Edited by Ronald J. Burke, Cary Cooper and Alexander-Stamatios Antoniou
Chapter 7: Complexity in multigenerational organisations: a socio-political perspective
Modern organisations are characterised by complex diversity. They often operate in, or are influenced by, multinational environments, with workforces increasingly becoming multicultural and multigenerational. Not surprisingly, one of the major challenges confronting managers is managing a workforce that varies across age, culture and nationality. Consequently, managers often rely on concepts such as generations to make sense of the diversity in the workforce. Generations have been defined as distinct age cohorts that share unique core values, attitudes and behaviour (Zemke et al., 2000). This has given rise to typologies that provide managers with a framework to classify the workforce into age-based cohorts (for example, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y). Each generational cohort is assumed to demonstrate unique attitudinal and behavioural attributes. This, in turn, allows managers to tailor organisational policies in order to effectively manage specific generational cohorts. Generation is a useful concept, as it allows managers to make sense of bewildering complexity. However, the current conceptualisation of generations is largely based on Western, usually US, age-based profiles. While there is inherent merit in the concept of generations, and the ensuing typologies, the current conceptualisation of generations does not capture the increasing diversity in the modern multinational and multicultural workforce. We recommend that the generations concept needs to move beyond simply transposing behavioural and attitudinal attributes that define Western generations, to generations across the globe. We propose a more nuanced understanding of generations that factors in the social and cultural differences that characterise the modern workforce.
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