Generational diversity in a South African corporate: myth or reality? A study investigating the relationship between age and work values
Diversity management in South Africa, post 1994, has increasingly become a focal area when considering strategic human resource issues in the corporate environment. To date "traditional" diversity topics have largely centered around the differences in employees' race, culture, gender, language and disability status, and scores of academic and management text has been produced in this regard since the birth of democracy in this country, sixteen years ago. Whilst change on the political front has been vanguard, resultant societal change has largely been ignored by corporate South Africa. The era of equal opportunity has led to changes in income levels, consumer buying power and demographics and has paved the way for a new breed of human capital in the workplace. One particular breed, having been raised in the New South Africa, has shared experiences and backgrounds which are completely different to that of their parents and their grandparents. Their common location in history has dramatically shaped their belief systems and their expectations of life in general, with work life being a major facet thereof. These generational differences has resulted in tensions in the workplace where it has become evident that employees of varying ages are finding it difficult to 'speak the same language'. The concept of generational diversity has its roots in Generational theory, the underlying hypothesis on which this study rests. This hypothesis, as postulated by American researchers, Strauss and Howe (1993), states that every generation has a common set of beliefs and behaviours, a common location in history and a common perceived membership. These in turn shape the generational group's core values and view on life and work. Authors such as Zemke, Raines & Filipczak (2000), Kupperschmidt (2000), and Lancaster & Stillman (2003) point out that understanding the differences that exist between employees of varying ages can potentially enhance organizational culture, increase productivity and minimize conflict. However, very little academic research on this topic has been undertaken in the South African context, and it is against this backdrop that this exploratory study endeavoured to test the hypothesis in a local context. The study surveyed a national group of employees of varying ages, who work for a large financial services organization, headquartered in the Western Cape. The major aim was to develop a hierarchy of work values, suggesting a relative ranking and ordering of important workplace attributes, per generational cohort to either support or disprove the hypothesis.