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Changing Societal Norms
Issue 5 - 2001

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Generational differences may also be lessening trust. Members of Generation X (1964-1977) grew up seeing their parents divorcing or getting fired or suffering through layoffs, and members of Gen Y (1977-1997), also referred to as Millenials, may live in a world so changed by technology that age-old notions of work may seem completely out of place.

The average person in the United States holds more than 9 jobs from ages 18 to 34, according to a study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This labor mobility is due in part to fundamental changes in society. The growing presence of working families has brought a new set of expectations from the workplace, including flexibility and work/life benefits. At the same time, the seeming inequity of workplace benefits for working parents alienates many 'child-free' employees. Changing generational attitudes about work, especially by members of Generation X and Generation Y, may also significantly alter the relationship between employers and workers.

Members of Generation X, born between 1964-1977, saw firsthand how socioeconomic changes such as massive job cuts and rising divorce rates impacted their parents. As stated in Generations at Work: Managing the Clash of Veterans, Boomers, Xers, and Nexters in Your Workplace, the "veterans were defined by a real war…boomers grew up during the Cold War…and Generation X grew up during the economic wars of the 1970s and 1980s." Other experts also point to similar dynamics having a profound impact on the outlook for this generation. Whether this holds true is debatable, but statistics do bear out that members of this generation change jobs much more often than their predecessors. The growing allegiance to work rather than to organizations is only spurred by the ease of job-hopping, comfort with technology, and a value towards work/life balance.

Members of Generation Y, born between 1977-1997, are just starting to enter the workforce. They are the most technology-adept generation to come along, and the vast availability of information they have access to makes them logically mistrustful of traditional notions of work. Why work 9-5? Why go to a specific place to work if you can work from anywhere? Why do you need diplomas and certificates from certain institutions if you can show that you can do the work? Why work 5 days a week, and receive 2 weeks off per year instead of working from project to project, with as much time off as desired? These potential generational attitudes may fit with contingent work rather than traditional notions of work, leading to wholesale changes in the how we work, and the redesign of compensation and benefits policies.

And it's not just members of the next two generations who are less trusting of employers. We may all be less trusting towards everything. Social historian Francis Fukuyama writes that "Overall, we're less loyal. We're just less committed to social institutions." According to Fukuyama, loyalty is primarily a social phenomenon about relationships. We are now in what he calls a time of "moral miniaturization: The circle of people to whom you are loyal is smaller, and it's more transient."

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