Are millennials really lazy? A Zimbabwean Perspective

Are millennials really lazy?

A total of 698 Zimbabwean employees participated in an online survey of protestant work ethic (PWE), internal locus of control and self-evaluated individual performance that we recently undertook.

The purpose of the study was to find out if there is any significant differences between Liberators and Born Frees in work ethic as measured by the Protestant Work Ethic Instrument. The Liberators were classified as people born before 1975 as they experienced the war and all those born after 1975 were classified as born frees.

Demographic differences in these three variables were tested. Most of what we know about the influence of demographic and important psychological variables on individual job performance are anecdotes from business leaders who often complain of a deteriorating work ethic and lack of initiative/pro-activity on the part of employees. This points to perceived generational differences between older (liberators) and younger employees (born frees) work values. All these attributions are happening in the context of worsening economic fundamentals. At the time of writing the country is experiencing inflation due to liquidity constraints, low capacity utilisation in industry, amongst other issues. The result has been low productivity and noncompetitive products and loss of domestic market to foreign competitors. Consequently employee job security is constantly under threat for those employees lucky to be still in employment.

It is against this background that the present study sought to determine how generational cohorts; liberators and born frees are being affected by and responding to the prolonged socio-economic disaster in terms of their work ethic and internal locus of control.  At a deeper level the study is cast in the Marxian and Weberian debate. Marx ( 1867-1976) suggests that societies are in a rational change process principally determined by their modes of production which in turn shapes one’s position and values in society (Linz and Chu, 2012).  By implication once values are defined by the standing out economic situation (Antony, 1977). On the other hand Weber (1905-1958) in the Protestant Work Ethic and Rise of Capitalism was of the view that values give rise to a particular economic dispensation (Hill, 1996). To Weber, embracing of the protestant work ethic (PWE) with its emphasis on hard work, ascetics, need for achievement and general distaste of time wasting (Furnhan, 1990) was the impetus behind the rise of capitalism. If Marx is right then we would expect liberators who experienced the fruits of a performing economy to exhibit higher levels of attachment to the protestant work ethic. On the other hand born frees who have only experienced the ravaging effects of a failed economy would exhibit less adherence to the PWE.A related individual characteristic that has been found to be of importance in explaining individual performance is locus of control. Locus of control according Rotter’s theory of social learning (1954) explains it as internal versus external control of reinforcements. Internal locus of control is evident when an individual attributes causality of events to internal factors within the individual’s control. External locus of control is evident when individual attribute causality to factors outside their control.  Lefcourt (1976) explains that that individuals who are high in internal locus of control determine their own destiny, while those with an external locus of control are at the mercy of luck and fate. According to Spector (1982) those with high internal locus of control will exert greater effort to performance if performance result in valued rewards. In the Zimbabwean situation we expect a generation that has not been exposed to normal functioning economy to exhibit low internal locus of control because effort rarely leads to rewards.

    Comparing protestant work ethic (PWE) by age, this survey shows that:
  • 90% of the liberators believed that hard working makes one a good person and 89% of the born frees believed this also.
  • 93% of the liberators believed that wasting time is as good as wasting money and 93% of the born frees believed this also.
  • 88% of the liberators believed that a good indication of a person’s worth is how well his/her job is done and 76% of the born frees believed this also.
  • 85% of the liberators believed that if all things are equal, it is better to be one who have a lot of responsibility than one with little responsibility and 79% of the born frees believed this also.


In summary, an organisation that wishes to achieve “world-class” performance in all areas of operation should not overlook the importance of work ethics. When hiring new employees hiring people with the right work ethic will make a huge difference in the performance of the business.  All in all, one can conclude that there is a significant differences between liberators and born frees in PWE however, further research needs to be done to ascertain the impact of this difference on actual performance.


Memory Nguwi is an Occupational Psychologist, Data Scientist, Speaker, & Managing Consultant- Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd a management and human resources consulting firm. Phone 481946-48/481950/2900276/2900966 or  email:  or visit our website at


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