Higher Education Ph.D. Dissertations

From Memos to TikToks: A Qualitative Study of Multigenerational Student Affairs Workplace Expectations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Higher Education Administration

First Advisor

Maureen Wilson (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Abhishek Bhati (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Michael Coomes (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Joshua Lawrie (Committee Member)


Student affairs is a field compromised of employees representing several generations, each of which has different experiences, preferences, and expectations for the workplace. With these differences comes the potential for misaligned expectations between colleagues and supervisors. Employers need to consider how to understand these differing workplace expectations in order to reasonably manage expectations while balancing the needs of all employees, regardless of generational status. The purpose of this study was to identify the characteristics and expectations of Generation Z student affairs employees, understand their experiences as student affairs employees, and examine how those characteristics, expectations, and experiences compare with those of their non-Generation Z colleagues. Generation Z includes individuals born between 1995 and 2010. This general inductive qualitative study was situated at a mid-sized, public university and participants were student affairs professionals currently employed at the institution. Ten participants completed two semi-structured interviews intended to better understand the individual experiences of employees of different generations in the workplace. Participants ranged in age from 23 to 66 years old and represented Generation Z, Millennials, Generation X, and Baby Boomers. The following themes emerged from the study: Generation Z employees are seeking to balance their individualism with clear expectations. Generation Z, Millennial, and Generation X employees would all prefer to see increased opportunities for professional development throughout their career. Employees of all four represented generations are willing to learn from employees of other generations and to share their own experiences and expertise with their colleagues. There are several implications for practice, including the need for supervisors within student affairs to be prepared to explain the reasoning for policies and expectations as younger employees seek to be individuals in the workplace. Comprehensive onboarding and tailored professional development plans will also become necessary for all staff. Finally, allowing staff to share and learn from one another can help to create a cohesive workplace that is inclusive of all generations.