Are Generational Categories
for Workforce Management?
Committee on the Consideration of Generational Issues
in Workforce Management and Employment Practices
Board on Behavioral, Cognitive, and Sensory Sciences
Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education
A Consensus Study Report of
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This activity was sponsored by the U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences (ARI) and was accomplished under Grant Number W911NF-19-1-0012. The views and conclusions contained in this publication are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the official policies, position, or decision, either expressed or implied, of the ARI or the U.S. Government, unless so designated by other documents. The U.S. Government is authorized to reproduce and distribute reprints for Government purposes notwithstanding any copyright notation herein. Support for the work of the Board on Behavioral, Cognitive, and Sensory Sciences is provided primarily by a grant from the National Science Foundation (Award No. BCS-1729167). Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of any organization or agency that provided support for the project.
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Digital Object Identifier: https://doi.org/10.17226/25796
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Suggested citation: National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Are Generational Categories Meaningful Distinctions for Workforce Management? Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/25796.
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COMMITTEE ON THE CONSIDERATION OF GENERATIONAL ISSUES IN WORKFORCE MANAGEMENT AND EMPLOYMENT PRACTICES
NANCY T. TIPPINS (Chair), The Nancy T. Tippins Group, LLC, Greenville, SC
ERIC M. ANDERMAN, Department of Educational Studies, The Ohio State University
JOHN BAUGH, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Washington University in St. Louis
MARGARET E. BEIER, Department of Psychological Sciences, Rice University
DANA H. BORN, Center for Public Leadership, Harvard Kennedy School of Government
CHANDRA CHILDERS, Institute for Women’s Policy Research, Washington, DC
BRENT DONNELLAN, Department of Psychology, Michigan State University
ARMANDO X. ESTRADA, Department of Policy, Organizational, and Leadership Studies, Temple University
BRIAN HOFFMAN, Department of Psychology, University of Georgia
ARNE L. KALLEBERG, Department of Sociology, University of North Carolina
RUTH KANFER, School of Psychology, Georgia Institute of Technology
MARIA LYTELL, RAND Corporation, Arlington, VA
MICHAEL S. NORTH, New York University Stern School of Business
JOANNE SPETZ, Institute for Health Policy Studies and Department of Family and Community Medicine, University of California, San Francisco
MO WANG, Warrington College of Business, University of Florida
JULIE ANNE SCHUCK, Study Director
ERIN HAMMERS FORSTAG, Science Writer
ANTHONY MANN, Program Associate
BOARD ON BEHAVIORAL, COGNITIVE, AND SENSORY SCIENCES
SUSAN T. FISKE (Chair), Department of Psychology and Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University
JOHN BAUGH, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Washington University in St. Louis
WILSON S. GEISLER, Center for Perceptual Systems, University of Texas, Austin
MICHELE GELFAND, Department of Psychology, University of Maryland, College Park
NANCY G. KANWISHER, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
WILLIAM M. MAURER, School of Social Sciences, University of California, Irvine
TERRIE E. MOFFITT, Department of Psychology, Duke University and School of Social Development, King’s College, London
STEVEN E. PETERSEN, Department of Neurology and Neurological Surgery, Washington University School of Medicine
ELIZABETH A. PHELPS, Department of Psychology, Harvard University
TIMOTHY J. STRAUMAN, Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, Duke University
BARBARA A. WANCHISEN, Director
ADRIENNE STITH BUTLER, Associate Board Director
On behalf of the Committee on the Consideration of Generational Issues in Workforce Management and Employment Practices, we thank the many people who contributed their time and expertise to assist in the committee’s work and the preparation of this report. The study was initiated by the U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences (ARI), and we are particularly grateful for the guidance and support provided by Gerald (Jay) Goodwin, ARI, to facilitate the committee’s work.
As discussed in this report, the nature of work and the composition of workers are changing rapidly in the 21st century. Although there have been many other events, the COVID-19 pandemic that emerged during the final stages of this study has demonstrated just how rapidly things can change and emphasized to organizations the importance of having the capabilities to adjust their workforce policies to new environments. Regardless of whether change is gradual and incremental or rapid and catastrophic, employers are often challenged to find new ways of managing their workforces across the employment life cycle. The U.S. military is not immune to these changes and is faced with many of the same challenges as other employers in both the private and public sectors.
Advice on managing multiple generations in the workforce is quite prevalent but sometimes contradictory. The committee was tasked to review the state and rigor of the empirical work related to generations and assess whether generational categories are meaningful in tackling workforce management problems.
To fulfill its charge, the committee heard from numerous people, including researchers, human resources professionals, military personnel officers, and corporate speakers. We are grateful to the input provided by these experts during our meetings and workshops and would like to thank the following presenters: Alexander Alonso, Society of Human Resource Management; David Autor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Peter Cappelli, Wharton Business School; Brian Carter, The Brian Carter Group; David Chu, Institute for Defense Analyses; Philip Cohen, University of Maryland; David Costanza, The George Washington University; Jennifer J. Deal, Center for Creative Leadership; Eric Dunleavy, DCI Consulting, director, Personnel Selection and Litigation Support Division; Richard Fry, Pew Research Center; Curtis L. Gilroy, retired, director, accession policy, Office of the Under Secretary for Personnel and Readiness, U.S. Department of Defense (DoD); Rick Guzzo, Mercer; Lernes “Bear” Hebert, acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for military personnel policy, Office of the Under Secretary for Personnel and Readiness, DoD; Steve Henderson, Bureau of Labor Statistics; Martha Hennen, Securities and Exchange Commission; Kim Lear, Inlay Insights, Inc.; Don Lustenberger, DCI Consulting; Sean Lyons, University of Guelph; Haig Nalbantian, Mercer; Frederick Oswald, Rice University; Cort Rudolph, Saint Louis University; Dietram Scheufele, University of Wisconsin–Madison; Christine Selph, Deloitte; William J. Strickland, retired CEO, Human Resources Research Organization (HumRRO), and retired colonel, U.S. Air Force; Jean M. Twenge, San Diego State University; Stephen E. Watson, Human Capital Management, U.S. Navy; Cortney Weinbaum, RAND; and Ken Willner, Employment Law Department, Paul Hastings, LLP.
This report, the result of the committee’s work, contains our final conclusions and recommendations. Its preparation would not have been possible without the contributions and hard work of many individuals. The members of the committee dedicated their time and energy to collecting information, discussing alternative approaches, and drafting the report. The National Academies staff facilitated all aspects of the committee’s work. Special thanks go to Julie Schuck, the study director, who performed a tremendous amount of research for the committee and kept the study organized and moving forward; Erin Hammers Forstag, science writer, who assisted with editing and drafting text for the report; Jeanne Rivard and Tina Winters, who provided research support in managing the generational literature and report elements; and Jacqueline Cole, Thelma Cox, and Anthony Mann, who handled the logistics for the committee and our invited guests at various stages of the project. Barbara Wanchisen, director of the Board on Behavioral, Cognitive, and Sensory Sciences, and Adrienne Stith Butler, associate board director, provided guidance to the committee throughout the study. In addition, the committee acknowledges the contri-
butions of the Academies Research Center and Rebecca Morgan in searching databases and assembling the generational literature for this study and other staff members Kirsten Sampson Snyder, director of reports for the Division on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education (DBASSE), and Monica Feit, DBASSE deputy executive director, who provided guidance and facilitated the report review process.
This Consensus Study Report was reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in making its published report as sound as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for quality, objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process.
We thank the following individuals for their review of this report: Peter Cappelli, Center for Human Resources, Wharton Business School, University of Pennsylvania; G. Marius Clore, Laboratory of Chemical Physics, National Institutes of Health; Jose M. Cortina, Department of Management and Entrepreneurship, School of Business, Virginia Commonwealth University; Lisa Finkelstein, Department of Psychology, Northern Illinois University; Emma Parry, Human Resource Management, Cranfield School of Management; Paul R. Sackett, Department of Psychology, University of Minnesota; and Donald M. Truxillo, Department of Psychology emeritus, Portland State University.
Although the reviewers listed above provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the report’s conclusions or recommendations, nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. The review of this report was overseen by Howard M. Weiss, School of Psychology, Georgia Institute of Technology and Jonathan S. Skinner, Department of Economics, Dartmouth College. They were responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with the standards of the National Academies and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content rests entirely with the authoring committee and the National Academies.
Nancy T. Tippins, Chair
Julie Anne Schuck, Study Director
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2 THE CHANGING WORLD OF WORK AND WORKERS
3 ORIGIN AND USE OF GENERATIONAL THEORIES
Early Sociological Theories of Generations
Influential Popular Theory of Generations
Widespread Use of Generational Terminology
4 REVIEW OF THE GENERATIONAL LITERATURE
Overall State of the Literature
Conceptual Issues in the Literature
Methodological Issues in the Literature
5 ALTERNATIVE PERSPECTIVES FOR RESEARCH
The Inherent Appeal of Generations
Risks of Using Generational Categories
Perspectives to Advance Research
6 WORKFORCE MANAGEMENT IN A NEW ERA
Examples of Workforce Management Challenges
Workplace Management Opportunities in the Changing World of Work
Recommendation for Effective Workforce Management
Appendix A Details of Literature Review
Appendix B Biographical Sketches of Committee Members and Staff