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Generational value gaps shifting as individualist thinking warps view of success

- Belle DeMont
- Belle DeMont

By Doug Bowerman, Jessie Rankin, Ambuj Laroiya

Cross-generational differences have recently become a popular topic of conversation. More specifically, society has become interested in the variance of ideas, values, attitudes, and circumstances between generations. These differences have particular implications in professional environments.

As one generation retires and another begins, generational differences begin impacting both society and the workplace. These generational differences have important implications on the ways in which companies motivate and manage their employees. With changes in ideas, values and attitudes, come changes in the way generations view success on an individual level.

This raises an important question: What does success look like? The answer varies significantly based on the individual in question. However, trends may suggest close links between values of those belonging to the same generation. Furthermore, generations typically encompass similar values, opinions, and life experiences and can be useful tools in measuring changes in the perception of success.

This raises an important question: As a fresh batch of graduates are released into the workforce, how will their generational differences interact with the current business environment?

With this in mind, there are some well-known characteristics of each given generation.

In addition to these basic differences, generations also show variation in views and values. Perhaps more importantly, generations have distinct differences in what they value most, and how they view success. This becomes important when companies consider the contrast in values between the younger generations that are entering the workforce—millennials & gen z, and the current aging workforce.

The importance of these differences is emphasized by the size of our incoming Canadian workforce. Canadian University enrollment reached 1.7M in 2017. This figure represents a massive population of new-graduates entering the Canadian workforce over the next four-years.

These recent graduates of university have their own distinct set of ideals and values; which may differ from other generations more than we think. This dynamic shift is expected to send waves throughout Canada’s industries. But what are the differences exactly? We explored some aspects of these differences through a survey asking participants to rank values in order of importance to oneself and to briefly define their individual perception of the meaning of “success”. This was then sorted by age and generational tranche.

In data collected over the past few weeks, we found that perceptions of success ranged widely across the generational variances and are correlated to core values. While this data is far from conclusive, it helps paint the picture of our population’s dynamic priorities.

We segregated our information by generational gap and the results were intuitive—Boomers value security and authority, and perceived success as achieved through sacrifice and dedication.

Similarly, Generation X valued security, while also ranking teamwork among their top values—they gravitated towards success as shown through fulfilling relationships with friends and family.

In analyzing the millennial data, we saw the beginning of a divestiture from traditional values. Millennials ranked creativity as their highest value, while also ranking security and teamwork highly. Millennial’s define success through impactful contributions to society, or through feeling as though their work adds value to the greater community.

Finally, Gen Z values individualism and freedom of expression above all else. These perception responses consistently equated success to happiness—the simplest success model found in the data. This created a trend where personal and professional success were no longer as separated as they were in past generations. Though the sample size was minimal, these results indicate a greater pattern of shifting values that translate to a complex and fluid definition of success.

One thing can be sure — generational value gaps are shifting. Further, they are changing how each and every individual views personal and professional success; and the injection of new grads into the workforce comes in tangent with new modern values. Moreover, the definition of success is increasingly fluid with the rise of individualist thinking.

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1 being least likely, and 10 being most likely

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