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Generations at Work: What's Going Behind the Scenes
Team building at RGB Parkour Tour back in 2014.

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Generational Conflict at Work

If you're like most organizations, you probably are experiencing conflict among generations in your workplace.

Generational conflict is inevitable. Each generation matured in different decades with differing social, economic, historical, and cultural influences, which created differing values, preferences, and expectations. Rather than accepting the differences and leveraging them to be positively productive, people often judge the differences as wrong. This leads to conflict.

Let's look at what factors influenced each generation, so you can better understand where they are coming from and how to get along with them.

Traditionals (1922-1943/46)

This generation was shaped by the Great Depression and World War II. They value conformity and personal integrity and are dedicated employees who view work as an honor and a privilege. Traditionals appreciate strong, “control-and-command” leadership and respect rank unquestioningly; they see no value in consensus or collaborative styles of leadership.

Traditionals expect lots of top-down communication, which they accept without question. They prefer facts, statistics, and objective information over stories and emotional communication. Keep everything on a professional level. This generation prefers high touch, not high tech, interactions.

Getting Along with Traditionals

  • Provide opportunities for them to share their knowledge and historical perspective.
  • Always show them respect and courtesy.
  • Recognize that they prefer the status quo, so be prepared to deal with resistance when making changes.
  • Use one-on-one, in-person communication.

Baby Boomers (1943/46-1964)

Boomers were the first generation raised with a common visual technology—the television—which allowed people in widely separate geographic areas to experience the same news, music, and entertainment. These shared experiences greatly affected this generation in its values and attitudes. Known for creating change, Boomers want to make things better and often “rattle the status quo.”

Baby Boomers like working with and being among others, so they love to meet and get to know people one-on-one. They have a strong work ethic and are the generation for which the word "workaholic" was coined. Personal sacrifice for the job and career is expected and admired.

Getting Along with Boomers

  • Recognize their hard work and efforts with tangible rewards and recognition.
  • Provide opportunities for them to network inside and outside your organization.
  • Show appreciation for their expertise and knowledge and find ways to let them share it with the team.
  • Keep them focused on results and less on process since they can be rigid about how things should be done.

Generation X (1964-1980)

Gen X is stubbornly independent, skeptical of authority, and focused on work/life balance. They are willing to put in effort while on the job, but Gen Xs are not willing to work in their off hours. They are loyal to themselves and their families, not their employers. Flexibility and freedom are key values.

This is the first generation raised with technology, and they prefer virtual working environments over physical ones. With a “look-out-for-yourself-first” attitude, they do not want to defer rewards and prefer cash and salary to the promise of future recognition. Now is always better than later.

Gen X thrives on change and has little patience for the status quo or tradition. It there is a faster, easier way of doing things, they will find it. They will reject formality, rules, and protocol if it hampers their ability to get the job done more efficiently.

Getting Along with Gen X

  • Give them autonomy and avoid micromanaging them.
  • Earn their respect through your knowledge and expertise.
  • Be transparent, honest, and forthright.
  • Get to the point, use technology to communicate, and avoid trespassing on their non-work time.

Millennials (1980-2000)

This generation is optimistic and exuberant. Raised with cutting-edge technology, Millennials are used to constant stimulation. They want everything to be fast and fun, and when it isn’t, they become bored and are more likely to leave.

Members of this generation want to move up quickly and have difficulty understanding organizational structures, strictures, and politics. They are an extremely confident generation that rarely heard anything negative about their behavior or accomplishments growing up. This can make it hard to correct them or give them constructive feedback. They are the least likely group to seek additional responsibility, work extra hours, or accept tedious rules and procedures.

Team-oriented, Millennials like working with others, especially Boomers and Traditionals. They get along less well with Gen X. They see a leader as their mentor and coach and treat everyone as a peer.

Getting Along with Millennials

  • Keep communication short and to the point. 
  • Treat them seriously and do not talk down to them or use a patronizing tone.
  • Provide opportunities for learning and growth.
  • Make them part of a tribe; Millennials like teamwork.
  • Give them state-of-the-art resources, technology, and training.

Learning about other generations can go a long way to prevent disagreements from turning into full-blown conflicts. Understand generational differences and modify your responses to consider where each generation is coming from, what they prefer, and what their expectations are. The more flexible you are, the easier it will be to get along with others and achieve the results you need.