Workplace Conflict BY LARRY AND MEAGAN JOHNSON
FOR THE FIRST TIME IN HISTORY, FIVE GENERATIONS
are working side by side. Since conflicts often arise in a mul-tigenerational environment, it’s important for managers to
understand the differences among the generations.
Traditionals (born before 1945): “The Depression Babies”
are influenced by the Great Depression and World War II.
They are loyal and respectful of authority; stubbornly independent; dependable with a great work ethic; experienced
with a lot to offer; high commitment to quality; great communication and interpersonal skills; able and willing to learn.
Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964): “The
Woodstock Generation” is influenced by the Sixties, the
Vietnam War and postwar social change. They are interested
in spirituality and making a difference; pioneers of antidiscrimi-nation policies; well-educated and culturally literate; questioners of authority; good at teamwork, cooperation and politics;
seekers of financial prosperity; not in a rush to retire early.
Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980): “The
Latchkey Generation” is influenced by pop culture and may
be children of divorce. They are highly independent workers who prefer to fly solo; responsible, family-focused; little
patience for bureaucracy and what they consider nonsensical
policies; constantly preparing for potential next job; hard-working and wanting to contribute; expect to be valued and
rewarded; thrive on adrenaline-charged assignments.
Generation Y (born between 1981 and 1995): “The
Entitled Generation” is influenced by technology and doting
parents. They are into friends and socializing; at ease with
technology and multitasking; used to hovering, involved
authorities; value social responsibility; expect praise and
notice; need constructive feedback routinely; want work-life
balance; will stay put if their loyalty is earned.
Linksters (born after 1995) “The Facebook Crowd” is
influenced by a chaotic, media-saturated world. They are still
living at home; used to taking instruction; best friends with
their parents; live and breathe technology; tuned in to pop
music and TV culture; tolerant of alternative life styles; involved
in green causes and social activism; loathe dress codes.
authorities. Baby Boomers value teamwork, cooperation
and buy-in, while Gen X individuals prefer to make unilateral decisions and move on—preferably solo.
2. Air different generations’ perceptions. When employees of two or more generations are involved in a workplace conflict, invite them to share their perceptions. For
instance, a Traditional employee may find a Gen Y worker’s
lack of formality and manners offensive, while a Gen Y
staffer may feel “dissed” when an older employee fails to
respect his or her opinions and input.
3. Find a generationally appropriate fix. Work with the
set of workplace attitudes and expectations that come
from everyone’s generational experience. For instance, if
you have a knowledgeable Boomer who is frustrated by a
Gen Y employee’s lack of experience and sense of entitlement, turn the Boomer into a mentor. Or if you have a Gen
X individual who is slacking off, give him or her a super-challenging assignment linked to a tangible reward.
4. Find commonality. Shared and complementary characteristics can be exploited when dealing with intergenerational
conflict. For instance, Traditionals and Gen Y employees
both tend to value security and stability. Traditionals and
Boomers tend to resist change—but crave training and
development. Gen X and Gen Y employees place a high value
on workplace flexibility and work-life balance. Boomers and
Linksters are most comfortable with diversity and alternative
life styles. Gen Y employees and Linksters are technologically adept and committed to socially responsible policies.
5. Learn from each other. Traditionals and Boomers have
a wealth of knowledge that younger workers need. Gen X
employees are known for their fairness and mediation abilities. Gen Y workers are technology wizards. And Linksters
hold clues to future workplace, marketing and business trends.
Organizations that make an effort to reconcile the differences and emphasize the similarities among the various
generations will be rewarded with intergenerational harmony
and increased productivity. 3
Resolving Intergenerational Conflicts
Here are five tips for dealing with intergenerational friction:
1. Look at the generational factor. There is almost always
a generational component to conflict: Recognizing this
offers new ways to resolve it. For example, Traditionals and
Baby Boomers don’t like to be micromanaged, while Gen
Y employees and Linksters crave specific, detailed instructions about how to do things and are used to hovering
Larry and Meagan Johnson, a father-daughter team, are partners in
the Johnson Training Group. They are experts on managing multi-generational workplaces, and are co-authors of Generations, Inc.:
From Boomers to Linksters—Managing the Friction Between
Generations at Work.
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