Much of the extant research concerning generations in the workplace relies on objective definitions of generational groups based on birth years. This research has produced highly mixed and contradictory results, raising significant questions about the legitimacy of generations as a workplace phenomenon. In this qualitative study, we sought a more nuanced and subjective conceptualization of generation as a basis for social and individual identity in organizations. Through in-depth interviews with 105 Canadians, we examined the degree to which people use generation as a basis for social identity, why people identify with generational groups (or not), and whether there are age-related patterns in generational identification. The results suggest that people do make use of generation as a social category; but some do not identify with any generational group and others are unsure of their identification. Furthermore, generational labels such as "Baby Boomers," "Generation X," and "Millennials" are not universally connected to people's sense of generational identity, with younger participants being less likely to identify with a label. Rather, generation is used as a conceptual frame to make sense of "young" and "old" within a given historical context. We recommend discarding the presumption of homogeneity within age cohorts and allowing for a diversity of orientations toward generational prototypes. This suggests that age cohort alone is insufficient as a means of operationalizing generations for the purposes of research.
Work, Aging and Retirement
Sprott School of Business

Lyons, S.T. (Sean T.), & Schweitzer, L. (2017). A qualitative exploration of generational identity: Making sense of young and old in the context of today's workplace. Work, Aging and Retirement, 3(2), 209–224. doi:10.1093/workar/waw024