Different Generations of Scientists at Modern Universities: Profiles of Employees and Their Job Expectations

Marzena Feldy
National Information Processing Institute

Marta Bojko
National Information Processing Institute

The knowledge society and economy are based on science. Thus, nowadays a prominent role is assigned to universities that are expected to cooperate with business and contribute to economic development. Universities must provide applied knowledge, be engaged in knowledge transfer and produce qualified employees who are tailored to the labour market needs. Without talented and highly motivated academic staff they will not be able to face these challenges. However, the young generations of employees who enter the job market of the science sector have a different approach towards work environment than older scholars, which is reflected in their expectations towards employers. In order to succeed in managing diverse, multigenerational teams, universities must understand the needs and motivation of their employees. The purpose of the paper is to extend knowledge about the differences between three groups of researchers: Millennials (born after 1979), Generation X (born between 1965 and 1979) and Baby Boomers (born before 1965), and their expectations towards their working environment.

To broaden knowledge about the subject, we used data collected in 2017 in a nationwide representative sample of 840 Polish scientists who were at various stages of their academic career and represented all areas of science. A principal component analysis was applied firstly to classify attributes used by scientists to describe themselves as researchers and employees, and secondly to define main areas of job expectations of scholars. As a result, we identified three self-description factors: achievement-orientation, cooperation-orientation and scientific identity, and three areas of job expectations: economic and organizational matters, developmental opportunities and employment flexibility. Using these measures we assessed how Millennials, Generation X and Baby Boomers vary from each other as employees.

The study revealed that the distinguished groups of scientists differ in their attitudes towards achievements. Millennials are the most eager to achieve scientific success, whereas the Baby Boomers are the least. The latter, in turn, develop a stronger scientific identity compared to the other groups. However, the will to cooperate in teams was similar for all age groups. Moreover, generations vary in their job expectations regarding economic and organizational matters. Millennials are the most demanding group in this respect.

The existing literature on different generations of employees focuses mainly on the business sector. Few studies concern researchers and even fewer discuss the academic staff from Central and Eastern Europe. Our study, providing insight into different generations of researchers on the Polish job market in science, is likely to add relevant information in that field.

In the face of growing global competition in the area of science and technology and with the employee-tailored job market universities are under constant pressure to attract and retain the best talents. If they fail, they will not be able to produce and transfer high-quality knowledge to the business sector and contribute to a successful growth of the knowledge economy. That is why knowledge about researchers’ needs regarding their job expectations is very important. As scientists become more and more mobile, higher education institutions are at risk of staff fluctuation and brain-drain. This is particularly pressing in the case of Millennials who are the most willing to succeed at work but have not developed a scientific identity yet and with unmet expectations seem to be the most probable to leave the science sector.