What boards and executives need to know about the generation gap

Generational gaps – those differences that generalize one group by age from another – can sometimes lead to positive ‘teaching’ moments but also to negative culture clashes, even intractable misunderstandings. So, what happens when company executives and their employees experience this gap in perspective? Leaders today are facing this challenge – for the first time there are 5 generations working together simultaneously.

To find out more, Bentley University and Gallup recently conducted a survey of 5,458 Americans to assess how they feel about business and its potential to have a positive impact on society. The 2nd annual Business in Society Report highlights areas in which businesses, small and large, are failing to meet people’s expectations — and how they can do better.

Some of the insights from this report are important to boards and executives. For example, this data illustrates a large divide between the older executives who typically run many U.S. businesses and their younger employees – who are poised to replace them someday.

Three main areas represent the largest age gap: positive business impact, businesses speaking out and employee wellness.

Positive Business Impact:

American’s perception of the impact of businesses is generally positive and has grown since our 2022 survey. The 2023 Bentley-Gallup Business in Society report is based on a Gallup Panel web survey completed by 5,458 adults in the U.S., aged 18 and older.

In 2023, 63% of U.S. adults say businesses have an extremely or somewhat positive impact on people’s lives — an 8-percentage-point increase from 2022. And this year, 88% believe businesses have a “great deal” or “some” power to positively impact people’s lives. That’s almost 9 out of 10 people.

And while Americans’ views of businesses’ positive impact are consistent across demographic groups, they are not by age: 71% of adults aged 60 and older say businesses have a positive impact on their lives, compared with 63% of adults aged 45 to 59 and 58% of adults aged 18 to 29. Views on company impact on the environment are also different by age with younger Americans more likely to see a negative environmental impact (12% of 18-29 year olds) than older Americans (32% of aged 60 or older).

It’s also clear from the survey that young people want to work for employers whose purpose is to change the world. Many would leave their current job for one that has a more positive impact — even if it impacts their pay.

  • 55% of Americans say they would move jobs to make a greater positive impact. For young people that number is 71% vs. 29% for those over 60. And 40% of workers under 30 would even take a 10 percent pay cut.

Speaking out:

Americans overall are divided on whether businesses should take a public stance on current events. Less than half (41%) of Americans say businesses should take a public stance on current events, a decline of 7 percentage points from our 2022 survey. However, again there is a growing divide between the young and old. Fifty-three percent of younger Americans aged 18 to 29 are in favor of companies speaking out (down from 59% in 2022) but those aged 45 and 60 and over are far less likely to, both groups are only 35% (down from 41% and 43% respectively).

This age gap persists with LGBTQ+ issues, climate change, racial concerns and abortion – younger Americans are much more likely than older respondents to support businesses taking a public stance on these issues in particular.

  • For LGBTQ+ issues 49% of 18-29 favor it versus 29% of the over 60s; for climate change 68% of 18-29 favor it versus 49% of the over 60s; for racial concerns 56% of 18-29 favor it versus 39% of the over 60s and for abortion 35% of 18-29 favor it versus 19% of the over 60s.

Black and Asian Americans (61%) and individuals identifying as LGBT (57%) are particularly likely to want companies to speak out. Democrats (62% v. 75% in 2022) are more than three times as likely as Republicans (17%, consistent with 2022) and nearly twice as likely as independents to support businesses speaking out. Women favor speaking out only slightly more than men (44% v. 38%).

Employee Wellness:

When asked what actions employers could take to increase employees’ well-being, the number one answer was to offer a four-day, 40-hour work week in place of a five-day, 40-hour work week. 77% of Americans say this would improve their well-being. For younger workers who are between 18-29 yrs. the number goes up to 82%.

Where the older and younger respondents did not differ, both by age and by year, is the aspect of well-being that addresses how important it is to offer fair wages to workers of all types. In 2022, 96% of 18-29 year olds said it was somewhat or extremely important to do so compared to 98% of 60 or older. And in 2023, 97% of 18-29 year olds felt this strongly and 98% of 60 year olds. Offering fair wages is a perennial issue for both the young and old.

For comparison, we presented this information to a group of CEOs and found that none of them saw a 4-day work week as viable. Perhaps due to the age differences between company executives and their employees, they are not seeing employee wellness in quite the same way.


Taken together, and given the current low unemployment rate, aspects such as a positive impact, speaking out and employee wellness are fundamental aspects of employee retention and corporate culture.

As boards and executives continue to struggle with the pressure to create more meaningful work – corporate purpose – while also performing at a high level in a competitive world, we might be seeing the age gap, borne out in our results, as the focal point for a show down between purpose and profit.

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