Leadership and Generational Conflict Management at Work

Multigenerational staffs aren’t new. What’s new is the number of generations currently knocking heads in corporate America, which is putting a strain on leadership and conflict management skills.

There are currently five generations in the American workforce: 

  • The Silent Generation who were born between 1928 and 1945
  • Baby Boomers who were born between born 1946 and1964
  • Gen X who were born between 1965 and1980
  • Millennials who were born between 1981 and 1996
  • Gen Z who were born between 1997 and 2012

That’s five generations who differ in academic and professional experiences, work styles, core values, technological proficiencies, temperaments, political convictions, and life goals.

By the numbers

THECEOMAGAZINE.COM reports that “An estimated 75 percent of Millennials will comprise the global workforce by 2025, a figure that will continue to rise as Baby Boomers make the transition into retirement. Just in the United States, Millennial job turnover amounts to US$30.5 billion a year.” 

According to The Society for Human Resources Management, “Today, more people are choosing to work later in life, and as a result, employees with an age difference of 40 years or more may work closely together….”

Reluctant sparring partners

The Society for Human Resources Management reports that approximately 16 percent of  the managers in corporate America are Millennials—that’s a sizable number considering their ages. And their “underlings,” many of whom are much older, may deem them too young and inexperienced to exert any professional  authority at all. 

And those Millennial managers may chafe at those old fogies. From their vantage point  members of the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, and even Gen Xers are too old to be of any use; completely out of touch with the new rules of engagement in workplace warfare.

Pet names for pet peeves

In each corner of our pentagon-shaped boxing ring we have:

  • The Silent Generation, considered the resident fuddy-duddies who cling to tradition like a life raft;
  • Baby boomers who wear their wealth-of-experience on their sleeves and have a huge chip on their shoulders because no one appreciates that;
  • Gen Xers  who need therapy now that they’re considered the old fogies by…
  • …the Millennials, who are dubbed self-absorbed snowflakes because they can’t take the heat of work-day pressure or criticism; and
  • Gen Zers who are accused of being quiet quitters with no interpersonal skills.

Picking your pigeonhole

All of these stereotypes seem true…except when it’s you. It depends on which pigeonhole you live in. Most stereotypes are built around at least a grain of truth. But in reality, they should all be taken with a large grain of coarse-salt. Otherwise they can fester into serious barriers to work productivity and employee engagement. Result: an uber-toxic corporate culture and a stampede of not-so-quiet quitting at every age. 

Power plays

In reality, what looks like a  generational conflict is not always generational. More often than not, it’s about power—who has it, who doesn’t, and who wants it. Age difference is often just a weapon people use: 

  • to distract coworkers from their own defects;  
  • to justify their ruthless climb up the food chain; or
  • to maneuver around those by whom they are most intimidated.

Where’s the beef?

And most differences are unavoidable, and don’t deserve the wrath some workers express. For example, The Society for Human Resources Management points out that 

“…people who don’t have children are in a different life stage than those who have children…..Career stage also affects what people want and need at work.” So weaponizing parenthood, age, or other normal human attributes is foolish and counterproductive to any company’s bottomline. 

Common ground for a truce

While Millennials may be more proficient in the use of social media as a team building tool, and Gen Xers may rely more on email and smartphones, all generations have some professional concerns in common: 

  • the need for one-on-one feedback about work performance; 
  • manager-supported career planning strategies; and 
  • equitable compensation packages.

Generational conflict management and leadership

The main benefit of seeking common ground is that it’s a wonderful foundation upon which to build a team. Recognizing opportunities to exploit areas of commonality among your staff is wiser than fending off fights.

As a leader, you might consider developing a team of mentors among Baby Boomers who are willing to work with younger employees. These old dogs may have a few useful tricks left up their sleeves after all. [Mixed metaphor intended.]

And the fact is that some of the behaviors and values for which Gen Zers have been most chided are now among those attributes many [secretly] most admire:

  • boundary setting; 
  • demanding work-life balance; 
  • speaking their truth to whomever because we’re all human first, right? 

Imagine that…….now benefit from it!

Emphasizing empathy

From THECEOMAGAZINE.COM: “….multi-generational workforce speaker and author Vivek Iyyani,“Once you are able to empathize and think from the other person’s point of view, teams can collaborate a lot more effectively,” Iyyani explains. “In fact, if you include everyone, diversity really helps with innovation, it helps with coming up with new initiatives and that is a very powerful thing for an organization to have.”

Leadership and conflict management don’t have to fit hand-in-glove, [as in boxing glove]. Leaders and staff don’t have to be “natural enemies.” Magnovo’s conflict management workshops are designed to turn sparring partners into working partners.