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Intergenerational tension in the workplace: A multi-disciplinary and factor analytic approach to the development of an instrument to measure generational differences in organisations

Teh, Eng Choo Elaine (2002) Intergenerational tension in the workplace: A multi-disciplinary and factor analytic approach to the development of an instrument to measure generational differences in organisations. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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An ageing population is changing the nature of the workplace, one outcome of which is an increase in the proportion of older workers. Unlike older workers of some twenty or so years ago, today's older workers plan to stay at work longer than at first anticipated. However, as many older workers have found, their intended and continued presence in the workplace is not always appreciated. As such, they are subject to subtle and not so subtle forms of discrimination associated with ageist practices, or ageism, and negative perceptions regarding their ability to compete on equal terms with younger workers. In turn, it is suggested that older workers, too, indulge in ageist practices and the stereotyping of younger workers. It is proposed that underlying generational differences,when combined with ageism, negative stereotyping and discriminatory organisational practices, are responsible for a new phenomenon called intergenerational tension in the workplace.

The notion of tension, which can be thought of as suppressed anxiety or a strained relationship between individuals and groups, is important because intergenerational tension is presented as a latent or covert phenomenon. From this comes the following definition: lntergenerational tension in the workplace is a latent or covert form of intergroup conflict caused by value and attitudinal differences between the generations. lntergenerational tension can be thought of as an everyday fact of organisational life which exists as an undercurrent or type of background organisational noise that is so pervasive that it is rarely noticed. In this respect, intergenerational tension bears similarities to gender and ethnic tensions both of which have been recognised as counterproductive to organisational efficiency.

This thesis proposes a construct to measure this intergenerational tension. To investigate the generational differences associated with this new construct, a 25-item questionnaire was developed. The first stage in the development of the questionnaire was an informal experience survey that was completed by a small sample (n=54) of adults ranging in age from 21 years to 70+ years. A pilot study questionnaire was then constructed and administered to a small, stratified random sample of employees (n=60) from the Western Australia Police Service (WAPS). WAPS has recently changed from a seniority-based promotion system to a merit-based system for most positions and is undergoing a major cultural change in response to social and political pressure. Following data analysis, the final questionnaire was developed. The questionnaire, called the Intergenerational Tension Questionnaire (ITQ) was administered to a stratified random sample of employees from WAPS. Five hundred completed responses were subject to factor analysis in which principal components analysis extracted seven factors or dimensions thought to underlie intergenerational tension. Further data analysis revealed that on average, younger workers (i.e., less than 40 years of age) displayed less intergenerational tension than did older workers (i.e., more than 40 years of age). Data for workers a generation apart (i.e., 20 years apart) were also analysed, with the younger generation being those less than 30 years of age (the Under 30s) and the older generation being those more than 50 years of age (the Over 50s). The younger generation, on average, displayed less intergenerational tension than did the older generation.

Of the measures, organisational change was associated with the greatest degree of intergenerational tension for all groups. Multiple regression analysis revealed that the best predictors of intergenerational tension for younger workers and older workers were age, the length of service with one's current employer, and the number of years in the paid work force. For workers a generation apart, multiple regression analysis revealed that age was the only predictor. It was fortuitous that at the time of the study, the majority of younger workers were Generation X and the majority of older workers were Baby Boomers. This meant that to all intents and purposes, the questionnaire measured differences between two well-studied generational cohorts.

The findings supported the notion that organisations should not assume they are treating all workers equitably. In particular, older workers feel disenfranchised and angry at their treatment by organisations which, in their opinion, favours younger workers. The implication for organisations is that both groups should be treated independently, with each having its own special needs and expectations. This includes, for example, implementing strategies such as training methods suited to the needs of each age group and conducting age diversity training to raise awareness of what it means to be either a younger worker or an older worker.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Commerce
Supervisor(s): Entrekin, Lanny and Debowski, Shelda
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