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"More Societal than Generational": Examining the Construction and Resistance of Generational Messages in the Workplace

The Millennial generation, those born between 1980-2000, have drawn vast, sometimes fanatical, criticism in popular media. Slated as narcissistic praise hounds, they are cast as demanding graduate divas who are about to attack the workplace and everything ‘you hold sacred’ (Clark, 2008; Safer, 2007). The abundance of such messages about this generation in formats ‘tailored, targeted, and consumed’ by the public is problematic given that generational constructs are by many perceived as sacrosanct (Myers et al, 2010). The proliferation of such criticism is by no means innocuous given the very likely impact that they will have on Millennial work opportunities. For many scholars the field of Millennial research suffers from a lack of empirical and cross sectional data to establish more calculated and careful generational constructs, – instead relying on or reacting to popular negative stereotypes. While some Millennial scholarship has begun to move beyond criticisms of popular media, Millennial research is by many considered contradictory at best and confusing at worst (Kowske et al, 2010). Additional difficulties arise when the scramble to publish more research-based work has led to methodologies which are inherently flawed because they reinforce the very same monolithic generational categories they are supposed to assess. This study, undertaken in New Zealand, explores critical approaches as a means of examining the construction of generational messages and the establishment of generational difference. As a starting point, this small-scale examination analyses the very way in which generational messages are constructed and resisted within the workplace through an analysis of interviews undertaken with 26 employees of a Small to Medium Enterprise (SME) in the information technology sector. Unlike many generational studies, this project did not seek to draw conclusions by framing differences and measuring responses across generational lines, but rather took a bottom-up approach to understand how participants themselves constructed and resisted messages about generational difference. The project asked two research questions: First, how are generational messages constructed in the context of the workplace? And second, how are generational messages resisted in the workplace? Through axial coding this research categorized five themes under which participants constructed generational difference. These five themes are Technology, Voice, Fairness, Informality, and Stimulus. Broadly speaking, these themes were underpinned by a belief that Millennials have a great demand for respect, democratic process, and the reduction of power distances. Given the critical approach, the study also observed resistance as a component of the discursive process. As such this research outlines the partiality of resistance and outlines strategies of resistance employed by employees. In line with the idea that construction and resistance are mutually implicated as negotiation, participants were frequently observed simultaneously constructing and resisting generational difference, both synchronically and diachronically. Through axial coding this study also categorized three strategies of resistance. These three strategies are established as Dismissal, the Third Person Effect, and the Decline Metaphor. This research highlights the usefulness of adopting critical approaches by illustrating the way in which generational meaning is perpetually produced, reproduced, negotiated, and resisted by participants (Murphy, 1998). While there are several factors which are indicative of the Millennial generation, this thesis establishes the hegemonic character of most constructions of generational difference. Given the fragmented and complex state of society, this thesis posits that the usefulness of the monolithic birth-cohort generation has long since passed and we should instead look to understanding generations in terms of their consumption of similar cultural capital.
Type of thesis
Hitchcock, S. D. (2011). ‘More Societal than Generational’: Examining the Construction and Resistance of Generational Messages in the Workplace (Thesis, Master of Management Studies (MMS)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/5841
University of Waikato
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