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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Are Your Ethics Part of Your Generational Identity?

Anyone who works or lives with other humans knows that issues of ethics often arise. Mix in the idea of ethics and generational traits and watch the opinions flow. To move beyond opinions, I began researching the issue of ethics in a multi-generational workplace and have been enlightened and have affirmed my original perception that the ethical problems plaguing the workplace, are less a generational issue than that of experience and maturity. I acknowledge that there are generational trends and that these trends do influence the actions of members of a generation. However, it's imperative to also recognize the role that age, experience and presumed gained wisdom plays in one's perception of ethical issues.

In 2009 the ERC - Ethics Resource Center - conducted a National Business Ethics survey of 2, 865 respondents.  While lengthy, the following portion really caught my attention:

          Twelve percent of Millennials, for example, said they believe it is acceptable to post
          negative comments about their employer on blogs or Twitter, compared to 8 percent
          of Gen X-ers (age 30 - 44) and 5 percent of Boomers (age 45 – 63). And
          19 percent of Millennials said it is acceptable to keep copies of confidential
          documents, compared to 16 percent of Gen X-ers and 15 percent of Baby Boomers.
          They also have less of a problem calling in sick when they’re not (18 percent, versus
          19 percent of Gen X-ers and 13 percent of Boomers) and fewer concerns about   
          privacy in the Internet era.

The percentages for each of the identified ethical issues decrease as the age of the respondent increases.  Admitting there are many variables that can be considered here, I assert that as one lives life and encounters ethical issues, succeeds or fails, and gains experience and knowledge that his/her willingness to act unethically diminishes.  Whether it's the consequences of her/his actions, life responsibilities or personal morals/values, in each ethical situation the older the respondent the more conservative the action.

No matter the generation or age of the employee, ethical issues will continue to be a concern of every workplace.  So rather than look at this from a multi-generational point of view, we need to recognize this is a maturation or character evolution issue, and not tied to the character and traits of Generation Y.

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