Workplaces today employ people from a wide range of generations, from Baby Boomers to Generation Z.
While diversity is invaluable, it can also lead to misunderstandings and conflicts due to generational differences in work styles, values, and communication preferences.
Proactively addressing and resolving these intergenerational conflicts is crucial for building an inclusive, productive workplace.
According to CMA Consulting, specialized conflict resolution trainings can equip companies to navigate generational differences.
Defining the Generations
The first step is understanding the core traits of each generation. Here is a brief overview:
- Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964): Hardworking, competitive, and loyal to organizations. May clash with younger generations over work ethic and institutional hierarchy.
- Generation X (born 1965-1980): Independent, resourceful, and skeptical of authority. Values work-life balance and may resent Baby Boomers' workaholic tendencies.
- Millennials (born 1981-1996): Tech-savvy, collaborative, and craving meaning, development, and work flexibility. Perceived by older generations as entitled.
- Generation Z (born 1997-2012): Socially conscious, digitally fluent, and valuing diversity and inclusion. May clash with older generations over work styles.
Key Sources of Intergenerational Conflict
Now let's explore the most common sources of conflict between these varied generations:
Each generation has distinct communication preferences shaped by their era's prevailing technology. Baby Boomers prefer in-person and phone conversations. Gen X relies more heavily on email. Millennials and Gen Z use instant messaging and texting.
Misunderstandings occur when generations communicate using styles foreign to each other. Patience and willingness to adapt communication modes can help bridge these divides.
Baby Boomers value face time, long work hours, and paying dues. Millennials and Gen Z prioritize efficiency, work-life balance, and flexibility. Generational clashes emerge when older workers perceive younger ones as lazy or entitled. Explaining differing motivations behind work styles can promote understanding.
Baby Boomers and Gen X respect hierarchy, authority, and paying dues. Millennials and Gen Z want open access to executives and fast progression. Impatience with hierarchy can annoy older generations who see it as subversive. Fostering dialogue about these contrasting perspectives prevents tensions.
Feedback and Recognition
Millennials and Gen Z crave frequent feedback and recognition. Once-yearly reviews feel negligible. Baby Boomers, shaped by limited feedback opportunities, feel constant feedback undermines self-sufficiency. Bridging this gap requires adapting review frequency while emphasizing performance merits over generational preferences.
Collaboration vs. Individualism
Millennials and Gen Z thrive on collaborate work and collective recognition. Baby Boomers and Gen X value individual accountability and recognition. Forcing collaboration on older generations backfires. Instead, allow voluntary collaboration while ensuring individual contributors get credit.
Relationships with Authority
Younger generations demand access to executives and organizational transparency. Baby Boomers respect hierarchy and “paying dues” to rise through ranks. Impatience for authority access frustrates older generations who ascended slowly. Counseling patience while expanding access opportunities meets both needs.
Change and Innovation
Millennials and Gen Z push for innovation and rapid advancement. Baby Boomers and Gen X value institutional stability and gradual change. Dismissing hunger for innovation annoys younger workers. Forcing change too quickly frustrates older workers. Balance incremental innovation with stability to satisfy both mentalities.
Strategies for Resolving Intergenerational Conflict
Armed with awareness of core generational differences, what specific strategies can foster understanding and reduce conflict?
Foster Intergenerational Contact
Encourage collaboration and relationship-building across generations through mentoring programs, multi-generational project teams, and social events. Familiarity breeds understanding that lessens conflict.
Communicate Common Purpose
Remind all generations to view one another as being on the same team with aligned goals. Generational differences pale in comparison to shared mission.
Millennials/Gen Z want frequent recognition. Boomers/Gen X dislike constant praise. Solve this by showing appreciation for all generations – give frequent, informal recognition to younger workers and emphasize how older workers’ contributions benefit the organization.
Discuss Work Styles
Hold open discussions where each generation explains their work styles and values. Voicing motivations behind behaviors eases tensions.
Set Shared Guidelines
Jointly establish guidelines on communication modes, collaboration, hierarchy, innovation, and feedback frequency. This gives all parties an equal voice in creating new cultural norms.
Embrace Flexible Policies
Support schedule flexibility, remote work options, and career flexibility. This demonstrates you value work-life balance and understand diverse needs.
Invest in Training
Conduct professional development on resolving generational conflicts, designing inclusive workplaces, communicating effectively across generations, and capitalizing on generational diversity.
With five generations now in the workforce, intergenerational conflicts are inevitable. However, through enhanced understanding, adapted policies, and proactive training, companies can capitalize on generational diversity for innovation while building an inclusive culture where all generations thrive. The key is approaching differences with empathy while pursuing shared goals.
Navigating generational diversity is a defining challenge for modern companies. While conflicts inevitably arise, understanding core generational traits helps identify sources of tension. Addressing these friction points through adapted policies, shared guidelines, and employee training allows companies to resolve conflict and build inclusive workplaces. As generations learn from each other, they realize their diversity is an asset, not a liability. With patience and effort, generational differences give way to mutual understanding and success.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Content Creator / Editor
Fred Felton is a copywriter, editor and social media specialist based in Durban, South Africa. He has over 20 years of experience in creating high end content. He has worked with some of the biggest brands in the world. Currently Fred specialises in the motorbiking adventure space, focussing on all types of biking both on and offroad. He is also a keynote speaker and has presented talks and workshops in South Africa.