Clash of the Generations

1/8/2018 Michelle Graven

Written by Michelle Graven

“Doesn’t he know that he has to pay his dues?” “We’ve done it this way for years!” These are statements made about Millennials in the workplace. Millennials entering the workplace have caused some major conflict with older generations. How can we resolve generational confrontation and move on to a peaceful happy work environment?

Each generation has different likes, dislikes and motivations. The average workplace contains at least three generations trying to work alongside each other. The three main generations that are currently in the workplace are Baby Boomers, Generation X and Millennials.

Who make up these generations?

Baby Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964.  They are known as the “me” generation, meaning they can be self-righteous and self-centered, however, Baby Boomers also tend to be optimistic and team-oriented. In the workplace, they are traditional and want hierarchical structure. They live to work.

Generation X were born between 1965 and 1980. They are individualistic, entrepreneurial and feel misunderstood by other generations. They have the desire to learn and explore and tend to commit to themselves instead of a specific career. It is not normal for this generation to work for a company their entire life. They work to live instead of living to work.

Millennials were born between 1981 and 1995 and were raised by Baby Boomers and Generation X. It has been said that they were coddled by their parents and were taught that they are special and everyone deserves a “blue ribbon.” Millennials are optimistic, entrepreneurial and confident, but can feel enormous academic pressure and have high expectations for themselves. This is the first generation to have never known a world without computers. They are assertive with their opinions but very open minded. Millennials prefer a more relaxed environment instead of the traditional workplace environment.

You can see why there could be some confrontation in the workplace, but the generations do have similarities. So where does the cause of conflict stem? Values. Each generation has different values and intentions which are ultimately misunderstood.

Millennials have been labeled as lazy, narcissistic and entitled. In fact, according to a recent survey 70% of managers say millennials have skills that older generations don’t have. It’s the job of the manager or executive team to understand the clash and find ways to motivate their employees to work together. Ignoring the differences will impact staff morale and retention.

How do we resolve this conflict in the workplace?

Embrace the differences.

Each generation has different workplace expectations. For example, Baby Boomers prefer working at a “Brick and Mortar” building while Millennials are more comfortable working remotely. When older generations see an empty desk, they interpret that as a sign of a lazy employee. Millennials would prefer to not go to the same desk every day and like to work other places. Just because you may not agree with working remotely, doesn’t mean the behavior is directly linked to poor performance. Being tolerant of the differences is important but still continue to look for the common ground.

Learn from each other.

New young employees are not mind-readers. As a leader, sit down with your new employees and explain the team norms. You cannot blame millennial employees for something if it has never been addressed to them when they first start.

Be a mentor. Millennials love mentors. They really invest in their work and are looking for an older mentor to better their work. Personal learning and development are important to young professionals. Although Millennials love being mentored, they do not like to be micromanaged. They are looking for constant feedback, so offer your time to provide focused and specific feedback. All generations can benefit from frequent feedback. Older generations grew up in an environment without constant feedback, so they never ask for it.

Listen to each other.

A lot of workplace conflict is a result of poor communication. If a younger employee is rubbing you the wrong way, they may want to have an open conversation with you. Providing them with candid feedback will make a Millennial feel more comfortable. Millennials feel insulted when older employees seem to not listen or respect their input due to their short time in the professional world. Talking and listening to each other will promote more of a partnership where multiple views and ideas can be exchanged and accepted. You never know of what can come from a little brainstorm session!

Having a multi-generational viewpoint is a strength for all businesses. Different generations need to find a way to accept and understand each other. We cannot stereotype based on age.  Not all Baby Boomers are opposed to change just like not all Millennials are lazy. Seasoned generations may remember that they were once labeled just as Millennials are now. If we all embrace, learn from and listen to each other, we will be on our way to a stronger and more peaceful workplace. If there is a younger employee who is really getting on your nerves, take a step back and breathe. Having resentment does not lead to change. Respect each other’s opinions and be open to change. Remember, a Millennial’s views are not a weakness, they are simply a different outlook.



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