Dealing With Generational Conflict

John Krautzel
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Somewhere between three and five generations are vying for a spot in today's workplace, so it's no wonder generational conflict rears its head at times. Baby boomers, Generation X and millennials each make up about one-third of workers, but there are still some folks from the so-called Greatest Generation still hard at work, and Generation Z is starting to creep up and demand a voice. How can you manage these potential conflicts? Read on.

The heart of the generational conflict between the boomers, Gen X and millennials comes from their different expectations and ways of processing things. If you put a conflict management plan in place before any egos get rubbed the wrong way, you should be in a good position to keep your multigenerational workplace running smoothly.

Overcoming Stereotypes

Don't assume that all millennials have a sense of entitlement or that all baby boomers have closed minds when it comes to new ideas. Sometimes the best way to handle generational conflict is to stop avoiding the topic and examine the stereotypes. The millennials in your office may have high expectations when it comes to job flexibility, but perhaps the Gen Xers wouldn't mind working from home once in a while, too. Pare the demands away from the generational stereotypes to see what expectations and ideas have true benefits for your workplace.

Listening to Each Other

It's easy to dismiss an employee's complaint as just another example of generational conflict. However, before you make that assumption, listen to what's really going on. Perhaps that boomer in the office realizes that productivity is dropping because so many people are working flexible hours that team members aren't keeping in touch. Maybe that hardworking Gen Xer really is picking up the slack for everyone else in the office. Take a look at your team's actual productivity before you dismiss concerns out of hand.

Watching Out for Real Age Discrimination

In modern society's constant rush for whatever's new, it's easy to forget that ageism is a real occurrence in the workplace. Don't dismiss your older workers as out of touch just because they can't talk about the latest YouTube stars with the millennials in the office. Not only could you find yourself with a real age discrimination complaint, but you might also miss out on a wealth of experience and knowledge.

Leveraging the Strengths of Each Generation

This is the heart of managing generational conflict. Recognize that each generation brings something special to your team that no other generation can offer. Yes, millennials are digital natives, which is handy in a tech-based office, but don't overlook the conscientious reliability of generation X workers. And don't let your ego get in the way when a boomer speaks up, because she really has seen it all before and may have the answer to your current problem. Figure out the strengths not just of each generation but of each person in your department to bring people together as a team.

Conflict management is never easy, and when people are starting off with different expectations and understandings of the world, it can be hard to get everyone on the same page. Take time to listen to one another, and be open to new solutions coming from new places to put an end to generational conflict in your workplace.

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