Generation Y employees and their influence on leadership: Follower-centred research on knowledge workers in a multinational corporation

Michael Wolff

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Due to the internationalisation of business, companies are required to attract, deploy and retain people from all over the world. Studies have shown that demographic changes in industrialised economies will lead to skill shortages in approximately 10 to 15 years (Briscoe, Schuler, & Claus, 2008; Strack et al., 2014). In addition, the recruited workforce over the next decade will primarily comprise Generation Y members (those born between 1981 and 2000) since this generation is currently entering the job market. According to Braun and Leitl (2013), this demographic will comprise the largest group within the workforce by 2025. Thus, the global need for a skilled workforce and the impending generational change are the motivations for this dissertation. Engineering in the automotive industry relies on young skilled workers. In this research survey, engineers at the research and development centres are generally considered to be knowledge workers, as they have special technical and scientific knowledge and play a key role in innovation (Scarbrough, 1999). Previous studies have shown that an effective working environment for knowledge workers can increase the competitive advantage of innovative and globally competitive companies (Swart, 2007; Yang, Huang, & Hsu, 2014). Therefore, an investigation of Generation Y members entering the workforce is highly relevant for the automotive industry, especially in the areas of research and development (Sturgeon, Memedovic, Van Biesebroeck, & Gereffi, 2009) in the important research hubs of China, Germany and the United States. Furthermore, this dissertation examines the self-perceptions of Generation Y members regarding leadership, particularly focusing on employees’ behaviours and perceptions when engaging with their leaders (Shamir, Pillai, Bligh, & Uhl-Bien, 2007; Uhl-Bien, Riggio, Lowe, & Carsten, 2014). Moreover, it investigates the current status of follower-centred, cross-cultural and generational research in the context of global human resource (HR) management, talent management and leadership. This research employs the qualitative method of focus group discussions to obtain deeper insights into followers’ perceptions in a multi-country context. This focus is especially interesting as Generation Y members are the first cohort to be socialised in a similar way by global events and demand an active role with-in the leadership process (Perruci, 2011). Furthermore, by applying grounded theory, a theoretical framework is developed to analyse the concept of followership in a cross-cultural context. The implications of this dissertation are as follows. First, managers must refocus their efforts for improving the work environment while managing the rapidly increasing influx of Generation Y members. Second, considering the differences and commonalities of such members in the work-force, especially with regard to followership and leadership, this dissertation offers different perspectives on HR functions and on maximizing their out-comes regarding employee motivation and retention. Finally, the research findings contribute to theories on followership and cross-cultural management in the workplace.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Business Administration
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
  • Bartscher, Thomas, Principal Supervisor
  • Tilbrook, Kerry, Co-Supervisor
Thesis sponsors
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publication statusPublished - 2019

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