IT Employment

Six guidelines for resolving intergenerational conflict at work

For the first time in history, there are five generations working side by side. Here are some guidelines for resolving intergenerational conflict.

For the first time in history, there are five generations working side by side: the Traditional Generation (born pre-1945), Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964), Generation X (born 1965-1980), Generation Y (1981-1995), and the Linkster Generation (born after 1995). Since conflicts often arise in a multigenerational environment, it's helpful to have some understanding of the differences between employees of distinct generations.

Each generation has been influenced by the major historical events, social trends, and cultural phenomena of their time, shaping their ideas about everything from expectations and perceptions about what the working environment will provide and how they should behave as employees, to company loyalty and work ethic.

Here are some guidelines for resolving intergenerational conflict:

1. Look at the generational factor. Is this conflict generational, or is there something else going on? For example, Traditionals and Baby Boomers don't like to be micromanaged, while Gen Yers and Linksters crave specific, detailed instructions about how to do things and are used to hovering authorities. There is almost always a generational component to conflict; recognizing this offers new ways to resolve it. 2. Consider the generational values at stake. Each generation is protecting a distinct set of values, and conflict may threaten these values. For example, Baby Boomers value teamwork, cooperation, and buy-in, while Gen Xers prefer to make a unilateral decision and move on--preferably solo. 3. Air different generations' perceptions. When employees of two or more generations are involved in a workplace conflict, they can learn a great deal by sharing their perceptions. For instance, a Traditional may find a Gen Yer's lack of formality and manners offensive, while a Gen Yer may feel dissed when this older employee fails to respect her opinions and input. Have each party use "I" statements to avoid potentially negative confrontations. 4. Find a generationally appropriate fix. You can't change people's life experience. But you can work with the set of workplace attitudes and expectations that come from it. So, for instance, if you have a knowledgeable Boomer who is frustrated by a Gen Yer's lack of experience coupled with his sense of entitlement, turn the Boomer into a mentor. Or you may have a Gen Xer who is slacking off and phoning it in. Instead of punishing him, give him a challenging assignment, the fulfillment of which is linked to a tangible reward. 5. Find commonality and complements. When we study generations, some common and complementary characteristics emerge--and these can be exploited when dealing with conflict between them. For instance, Traditionals and Generation Y employees both tend to value security and stability. Traditionals and Boomers tend to resist change--but both 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 lifestyles. Gen Y and Linksters are technologically adept and committed to socially responsible policies. 6. Learn from each other. Each generation has valuable lessons to teach the next. For example, Traditionals and Boomers have a wealth of knowledge and tricks of the trade that younger workers need. Generation X employees are widely known for their fairness and mediation abilities. Generation Y workers are technology wizards. And Linksters hold clues to future workplace, marketing, and business trends.

Larry and Meagan Johnson, a father-daughter team, are the Johnson Training Group. They are leading experts on managing multigenerational workplaces, and are coauthors of Generations, Inc.: From Boomers to Linksters--Managing the Friction Between Generations at Work (Amacom, 2010).

5 comments
Barbaracvm
Barbaracvm

lol What is old is new again. The X gen's want stability and yet they have the IT experience that we baby boomers don't. Yet my 1942 husband loves working on computers.

brocksamson2011
brocksamson2011

i guess the key word in this article has to be "tend" I am a X and i find myself to cross into each gen listed. For example i prefer stability and security but at the same time i like alot of detail, don't care to be micromanaged but can deal with it...I prefer teamwork but usually end up working solo (not by choice) and i am technologically adept (a certified IT pro)....If i am wrong then as others have wrote, this article over generalizes the generations...

jtjenkins213
jtjenkins213

Talk about overgeneralization... I know many people my age (28-35) who can't find the power switch on a computer, have problems dialing on a smartphone, and couldn't find the top of a Kindle. This article is extremely general and does not take into account that people, no matter when they were born, are limited only by their experience. If an 85-year-old man has worked in technology his whole life, chances are he's capable of using a PC without much help. If a 30-year-old has never touched a computer before, chances are he won't know the difference between a monitor and a keyboard. I've met people who fall into both cases.

Spitfire_Sysop
Spitfire_Sysop

This is the "carrer management" section of Tech Republic... We are talking about people who hold technical positions. I certainly hope that your IT dept. had some experience with computers before starting work. I happen to be a Gen-Y who works in IT and is sometimes mistaken for a wizard. The reason we are seeing these generational lines is that I have co-workers who were adults before computers existed in their modern form. These guys will say things like "I have 30 years experience in IT and you're not even 30 years old". The difference is that I grew up with a PC in my house. I wrote QBasic programs in middle school. The older generation didn't have that oppertunity. The author makes good points that are based on technological availability.

jtjenkins213
jtjenkins213

I fall in the same category (Gen Y and mistaken for a "wizard") and I also grew up with a computer in the house. I also have worked in an technical education environment where I taught and have seen plenty of people in all categories of generation that is mentioned here who have zero experience coming in, and whether they're 18 or 80 makes little difference in how well they pick up the material. While I did lose perspective a bit in that this is aimed at tech users within TechRepublic, it does stand that not everyone falls into the generalist categories set by the article.

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