Ethics & Generations by Ken Cynar, Executive VP, Governance & Accountability Institute

by Ken Cynar, Exec VP – G&A Institute

The world is passing through troublous times. The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as if they knew everything, and what passes for wisdom with us is foolishness with them. As for the girls, they are forward, immodest and unladylike in speech, behavior and dress. I once thought this was written 20 centuries ago by Plato quoting Socrates, but on researching it for this blog I found it more recently had gained recognition in a Forbes article or even in an Ann Landers column….its origin is murky.

But the point is that criticism of young people goes way back in time…way way back… with each generation critical of the younger for its such things as its attitude, dress and demeanor.

Last week an article appeared in Accounting Web outlining a study of Ethics among several generations conducted by the Ethics Resource Center. I found it of great interest.

The study contrasted the views of these groups on the matter of ethics. First they described them in these terms” The four generational groups examined in the survey are Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X workers (Gen Xers), and Millenials or Generation Y workers (Gen Yers). Traditionalists, born 1925–1945, are hardworking, respectful of authority, and value loyalty. Baby Boomers, born 1946–1964, are hardworking, idealistic, and committed to harmony. Gen Xers, born 1965–1980, are entrepreneurial, flexible and self-reliant, and comfortable with technology. Millennials, born 1981–2000, are tech-savvy, appreciative of diversity, and skilled in multitasking.”

They then contrasted the various generations’ views on ethics…not critical but just as pure observers. The prime difference was this: The study found that the youngest workers are significantly more likely than their older colleagues to feel pressure from others to break ethical rules because the pressure “eases as workers spend more time in the workforce and learn ways of coping with their work environment.”

Basically, peer pressure to break the rules is strongest in the younger workers.

The lessons of ethics appear not to be instilled prior to entering the workforce. Schools, colleges and the family unit do not seem to be teaching the importance of following rules and in being ethical. The influence of peers is stronger than that of society…rules are to be questioned and adherence is selective.

As a member of the Baby Boomer generation, that attitude does worry me, but it is the same mantra as “don’t trust anyone over thirty” or “question all authority.” (Remember those from the 1960s?) It gives food for thought and debateon what is being taught within the family unit and through the educational process by Baby Boomers and Gen Xers.

You can read more about the report Ethical Behavior Differs Among Generations.” What generation do you belong to – and what are your thoughts on this?

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