EY study on generational shifts in the US workplace

Younger managers rise in the ranks

EY study on generational shifts in the US workplace

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Management is evolving quickly as young professionals rise in the ranks. In an effort to help quantify these management shifts and provide context for managing the generational mix in light of them, we surveyed over 1,200 cross-company professionals outside of the EY organization and across the US, including managers and non-managers in three select generations — Gen Y/millennials; Gen X; and baby boomers.

Our survey also explored perks that matter most to retain and engage employees of different age groups, and analyzed perceived strengths and weaknesses of members and managers of each generation.

Quantifying the shift and the rising perceptions of Gen X

From 2008 to 2013, both during and coming out of the recession, there has been a significant shift in Gen Y and Gen X moving into management roles. In fact, 87% of Gen Y managers surveyed moved into a management role during this period vs. 38% of Gen X and 19% of boomer managers.

By comparison, the generational mix of those who moved into management the prior five years, from 2003 to 2008, was 12% Gen Y, 30% Gen X and 23% boomers.

Moving into Management Gen Y Gen X Boomers
Less than a year to less than five years ago (2008-2013) 87% 38% 19%
Five to less than 10 years ago (2003-2008) 12% 30% 23%
10+ years ago (earlier than 2003) 1% 31% 59%

When it comes to positive perceptions of both the management skills and characteristics of each generation, Gen X leads the pack. Members and managers of this generation were perceived favorably on nearly every characteristic in the survey.

Survey highlights include:

  A majority (56%) of respondents felt that members of Gen X displayed each of the survey’s positive characteristics. In fact, the only negative Gen X attribute identified by more than half (51%) of respondents was "entitled and concerned primarily about individual promotion." This was also a characteristic of members of Gen Y (68%) and, to a lesser extent, boomers (32%).
  80% of respondents selected Gen X as the generation best equipped to manage in current economic conditions, followed closely by boomers (76%) and Gen Y (27%). Gen X also outpaced boomers and Gen Y at 65% vs. 27% for boomers and 51% for Gen Y as the generation perceived as best equipped to manage in 2020.
  Support for Gen X and boomers to manage in the future dropped, but the expectations that Gen Y will manage effectively in the future nearly double (from 27% now to 51% in 2020). As expected, boomers were least likely to be identified as best equipped to manage in 2020 economic conditions, as respondents probably expect more boomers to move into retirement by 2020.

Survey methodology

EY conducted an online generations survey in late June 2013. The 1,215 respondents were evenly split among the three defined generational age groups (Gen Y: 33%, Gen X: 33% and boomers: 34%) and fairly evenly divided among males (48%) and females (52%). Generations were defined as: Generation Y/millennials, ages 18-32; Generation X, ages 33-48; and baby boomers, ages 49-67. A majority of respondents (98%) worked full-time, had at least some level of higher education (95%) and reported household income in excess of US$75K a year (57%). EY’s survey was fielded by ORC International and the survey instrument was designed by FleishmanHillard Research in collaboration with EY.