If you’re under thirty, chances are your parents gave you a long talk about what real hard work means. While we can’t speak for everyone here, the science is pretty clear — there seems to be no difference in work ethic across generations.
There’s no denying that we can find perceptual gaps in attitudes or thinking between every generation. “Don’t trust anyone over 30” was the motto of the hippie counterculture, today’s baby boomers.
These ideological rifts between generations naturally lead to misunderstandings which may translate to the workplace. You’ll hear human resource managers say that baby boomers are more goal orientated and competitive while generation Y-ers and Millennials are more technology savvy, better at problem solving and teamwork. Is this narrative actually rooted in reality?
Keith Zabel of Wayne State University did not delve too much into ideological differences across generations but instead focused on studying work ethic. He and colleagues analyzed 77 different studies comprising 105 distinct measurements of work ethic to verify whether the popular stereotype of harder working generations is true.
“Given that Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennial generations will continue working together for decades, it is of vital importance to determine whether generational differences exist in the Protestant work ethic (PWE) endorsement, an important enabler of twenty-first-century skill development,” the authors of the paper wrote in the Journal of Business and Psychology.
The Protestant work ethic is an interdisciplinary concept which states that hard work, discipline, and frugality are the result of a person’s values espoused by the Protestant faith. That’s in contrast to the focus upon religious attendance, confession, and ceremonial sacrament in the Roman Catholic tradition. Some Americans might know this by the Puritan work ethic, mainly due to its prevalence among the Puritans.
Max Weber, an eminent German philosopher and sociologist famously argued in 1958 that the PWE, characterized by the disdain of leisure activities and a strong belief in the importance of hard work, was mainly responsible for the prosperous economic boom in Europe and the United States at the turn of the last century. Yet the analysis revealed no significant differences in work ethics among different generations.
“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,” Zabel said in a news release.
“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.”