Management-by-Generation: Does Your Generation Provide the Answer to How You Should Be Managed?

generational names and ranges

Often lost in talk about diversity in the workplace is discussion of age diversity, even though having a range of generations in place is pretty common. Today’s post sees Cara Reed, a lecturer in management, employment and organisation at Cardiff University’s business school, and Robyn Thomas, an honorary professor of management at the Cardiff Business School, discuss their work on what they’ve termed “management-by-generation.” In a post that appears below the abstract of their paper, “The generation game: Governing through bio-politics” in the journal Management Learning, the scholars discuss the concept and their motivation in creating it.

An increasingly popular management tool is to stratify a workforce along generational lines, to distinguish its qualities and differentiate orientations to work. From this, a range of organisational practices, ranging from leadership styles to reward systems are tailored to fit specific generational characteristics. We term this practice ‘management-by-generation’ and examine how it has the potential to govern as a bio-political technology. The article develops nascent work within organisation studies on governmentality and bio-politics to demonstrate the powerful potential of management-by-generation to govern in contemporary organisations. In line with other Foucauldian studies on ageing, it also contributes to the research on generations in demonstrating how a bio-political construction of generation allows management-by-generation to govern effectively, while more sociologically informed conceptualisations of generation could be a source of contestation to this emerging technology.

‘Covid-19, Climate Change And The End Of Baby Boomer’ Forbes 23 Jun 2020

‘Hong Kong’s Gen X has a duty to help the city and its youth forge a better future’ South China Morning Post 15 Jun 2020

‘So Gen Z-ers hate millennials now? A handy guide to the generation wars’ The Guardian 22 Jun 2020

The idea that the population is made up of different generations that have varying attitudes, behaviours, and mindsets based on that membership is not new.  In fact, we now regularly see references to ‘Boomers’, ‘Gen X’, ‘Millennials’ and ‘Gen Z’ as seen in the examples above.

However, the motivation behind our research was around how these ideas of generational membership have now infiltrated the workplace and in particular management training. In light of the ‘grand challenge’ of ageing populations – and with it a recognition of a greater age diversity in the workforce – there has been an increased interest in using the notion of generations in order to understand employees within work organisations. Our research explored management training of this nature and how it operates in order to be a powerful means by which to understand the workforce.

Cara Reed, left, and Robyn Thomas

Coining the term ‘management-by-generation’ – which is the establishment of management techniques for an age diverse workforce according to their distinct generational characteristics which differentiate their orientations to work – our research focuses on a case study organisation that implemented generational training amongst its managers and then used that training to alter some of their management techniques.

The study identified that managing workforces according to generational membership was a powerful idea that was constructed, enacted, and legitimated by various different managers in the organisation. Despite this, there were also signs of tensions and contradictions in the reception of management-by-generation for both managers and employees.

We’d like to explore more of these tensions and contradictions as we feel these could highlight the potential dangers of management-by-generation despite its popularity and influence as a lens through which managers can understand the workforce. We think these tensions and contradictions would help us to examine in more detail how management-by-generation can be discriminatory in practice.

Therefore, we would encourage other scholars in this area of work to continue to explore this, particularly with regards to:

  • how other stakeholders such as the state, education, and professional bodies feed into this idea of management-by-generation;
  • the long-term implications of thinking about employees (and oneself) through this lens;
  • and how resistance to management-by-generation can manifest.

Consequently, while our article highlights how management-by-generation is a powerful idea with powerful effects in organisations, attention should now focus on the implications and potential pitfalls of this trend.

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