Generational Differences in Exiting Employees

In the next few years organisations will experience a big shift, as Baby Boomers enter retirement and increased numbers of Generation Y’s enter the workplace. This notion of a generational shift in the workplace is causing concern for employers across the globe and some of our clients have asked us to investigate.

A key concern amongst our clients is that if a certain cohort of people who enter the workforce have a fundamentally different view of the world to another cohort already established in the workplace, then they are also likely to assess their employers, their role, their manager and their associated terms and conditions very differently as well. The ultimate fear is that such differences will also manifest in employee turnover.


We investigated exit interview data from 492 exiting employees. Data was drawn from 10 different companies to ensure that our findings could be generalised across multiple industries. Gen Y (<30 years old) represented 52% of the respondent pool, whilst 42% were from Gen X (31-50 years old) and 6% were Baby Boomers (>51 years old).\n\nAny generational differences in the “reasons for leaving” were then investigated in detail. We further looked at generational differences in the way that outgoing employees tend to assess their past employers in general during exit interviews.


Contrary to what we expected to find, our research indicated that there were no significant generational differences in terms of the reasons for leaving that outgoing employees nominate. This contrasts with popular opinion that there are many and varied differences between generations. We did not find evidence to support this however.

Our research also showed that out of 50 questions through whereby outgoing employees assessed their past employers, only 3 showed a significant generational difference. These questions were:

  •  Working at this company helped me fulfil my career goals. (Gen Y most likely to agree, Baby Boomer least likely to agree)
  • I felt that the pay and benefits I received were fair. (Baby Boomer’s most likely to agree, Gen Y least likely to agree)
  • The remuneration system was open and transparent. (Baby Boomer’s most likely to agree, Gen Y least likely to agree)

Each of these differences make intuitive sense when you consider the career phase that employees from each respective generation is likely to be in. However, from a statistical perspective, every time you conduct 50 separate analyses (as we did here) you would

expect to find up to 3 statistically significant results. Without going into too much detail about technicalities, 3 significant results is hardly overwhelming evidence in this context. It is also clear from our “reasons for leaving” research that different generations are unlikely to choose to leave the organisations for different reasons, even if they do assess their employers in different ways.


  •  Firstly, generational differences may NOT help us predict employee turnover behaviour.
  • This does not mean that the generational distinctions described by other theorists are complete nonsense. It is entirely possible that generational differences do exist when it comes to analysing other forms of employee (or consumer) behaviour.


Absolutely not! No doubt some of the individuals that participated in our study identified strongly with certain generational prototypes. However, what this study perhaps reminds us is the need to treat everyone as an individual with their own unique background, sense of purpose, personality, capability and potential. Once again, this research reminds us that when it comes to preventing turnover, there is no single solution and the most important variable of all is the strength of each employee’s relationship with their manager.

Of course there are limitations to this research. There is also a lot more detail available if you are interested. A full copy of our research paper on this topic can be obtained by emailing: [email protected]

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