Strauss and Howe (as cited in Murray & Chua, 2014:195), put forward the concept of the generational theory, and explained it as a theory that pertains to the recurrences of distinctive makeup that are found among generations across time. Generation as defined by Mannheim (as cited in Sessa, Kabacoff, Deal & Brown, 2007:49) “is a group of people of the same age in a similar social location experiencing similar social events”. At present there are five different generations, these are the Traditionalists or the Silent Generation, Baby boomers, Generation X, Millennials and lastly Gen Z. These generation types are also tagged by other names.
3.7.1. Generational cohorts
Warner and Sandberg (2010:2) have defined four of the five types of generations. Traditionalist or the Silent Generation, are individuals who were born before the World War II era, Baby boomers, are those individuals who were born after World War II, Generation X, are individuals who are born between the 1960’s and 1970’s and Millennials also referred to Generation Y, are those that are born during the 1980’s and 1990’s (Warner & Sandberg 2010:4-7). In a South African context, post 1994 Generation Y are the born frees of the country, a nickname given to those who were born at the time of South Africa becoming a democratic country. Other researchers have grouped these generations differently. As Murray (2011:55) has categorised Generation Y / Millennials as those individuals who are born in the early years of the 1980’s to early 2000. Lastly, there are those individuals who form part of Generation Z, who are postmillennial; these individuals were born after Generation Y.
Although there maybe change in the ranges of each generation, each generation represents individuals born at the same time. As Crumpacker and Crumpacker say (as cited in Shaw & Fairhurst, 2008:366) a “generation begins with a birth rate increase and ends when it declines and it represents a group who have a similar world view grounded in defining social or historical events that have occurred during that generation’s development years”.
Some of these generations have now retired and some yet to enter the business market. Baby boomers are those that are retiring from many leadership roles, thus leaving these roles vacant and in order to fulfil the operational needs of the organisation, new leaders need to fill this gap (Morris, 2012:33). This is where the development of students comes into play. With this, societies are encouraging organisations to address generational differences particularly as this new generation is now entering the workforce and this further means that different generations can lead to the changes in leadership positions and functions (Sessa et al., 2007:47).
3.7.2. Generational characteristics
With a melting pot of different generations, it has been witnessed that today’s businesses face more change from those previously. The reason for this is based on that, today’s businesses experience the workings of all these individuals, who are working together and along each other (Warner & Sandberg, 2010:1). Additionally, as the development of individuals have spanned across time, there is a possibility, due to varied influences that their work practices, views of leadership, skill sets, knowledge, values and beliefs and other attributes differ. This generational mix, if not managed can become difficult, therefore organisations need to address generational diversity (Warner & Sandberg, 2010:1).
Sessa et al. (2007:69) has pointed out the following: that there are both similarities and differences in character attributes among generations, which leads to diversity of leadership behaviours and style. The reason for this is that each generation has difference preferences (Ahn & Ettner, 2014:978). These differences are present because of a change in leadership styles (Merrill Associates as cited in Dempster & Lizzio, 2007:281).
Generational differences should be valued and the advantage of having differences in leader roles and leadership should be extracted for the organisation’s betterment (Sessa et al., 2007:70). As challenges and difficulties can be contested, generational differences can be embraced.
3.7.3. Generational desires
For reasons of this specific study, Generation Y and Generation Z are of interest. These two generations are made up of individuals who are students in higher education institutions and those of which are entering organisations or who are in early years of employment. In the 2014 survey by Deloitte, perceptions of Generation Y was that organisations are not providing sufficient leadership development opportunities and as this generation values leadership and skill development, they suggest that the development of future leaders should be addressed (DTTL Global Brand and Communications, 2014:8). This is also pointed out by Myers and Sadaghiani (2010:234); as Generation Y places high importance on leadership development and opportunities and they proactively search for this. Growth in knowledge and skill together with the lifelong learning are significant to Generation Y (Terjesen, Vinnicombe & Freeman as cited in Shaw & Fairhurst, 2008:367).
An article titled: How your millennial and Gen Z employees are changing your workplace, which featured on Forbes explained the results of a survey which was carried out to identify how Millennials / Generation Y and Generation Z differ (Strauss, 2016). The results of the survey discovered that both Generation Y and Z desire to be leaders, with 84% and 79% sharing this view respectively (Strauss, 2016). Although this desire is evident in such study, there is insufficient support. As Schawbel (2016) points out, results from a Harvard Business Review, that only 7% of organisations have assisted individuals in their leadership development. Organisations should realise that leadership development is not only essential for individual growth but also for itself. Goings (2016:6) acknowledges this importance and mentions that “a pathway for future leaders” should be created. This will provide opportunity for generations to grow and develop with the objective of adding value to organisations and communities. As both Generation Y and Z are important for the context of this study, it is central to understand the shared views that they have for their wants and needs.