Want to Find Peace from Generational Conflict? Complement and Learn

Thank you to HR Guru Kathleen Smith, who brought this post to our attention! It’s a guest post on SmartBlog on Workforce by Larry and Meagan Johnson, a father-daughter team behind Johnson Training Group, whose clients include several government agencies, American Express, Harley-Davidson, Nordstrom, Dairy Queen. They are co-authors of “Generations, Inc.: From Boomers to Linksters — Managing the Friction Between Generations at Work.”

The Johnsons give 6 tips for resolving intergenerational conflict in the workforce. Here are my 2 favorites:

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.

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.
So often we focus on the differences, when the key is really to learn how we balance one another’s unique attributes, then focus on solving our team’s problems together.

You can read the other 4 tips here.

What would you add?

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

Meyer Moldeven

Building gender equity in the workplace: Grandparents, and family elders generally, accept and enjoy the many roles into which they have been cast, especially where grandkids, aunts and uncles and other youngsters are close. One of the many is that they are the grandparents, aunts, uncles, yes, and cousins, of the family’s progeny, not just of one whom they chose to be their favorite. Favoritism within the family invites eventual disaster in the workplace.

Not too many years ago, I was into writing and self-publishing ‘grandpa’ stories, occasionally getting a comment. A young mother of two posed the following dilemma. I altered the text slightly to ensure the writer’s privacy. She wrote:

‘Since the birth of our second child our family has received lots of warm wishes. Yet, often, in offering congratulations, well-wishers remarked along the lines ‘You must be happy to have a boy now.’ This confused our older child, a four-year-old girl.’

‘Of course, she is a much loved and cherished child and we could not love her any more if she were a boy. And we are very happy to have our new son, but would have loved a second daughter just as much. But the casual manner in ranking my two children was secondary to my concern about my parents’ relationship with our children.

‘My parents reside within easy driving distance and we are a close-knit family. Rarely a week passes that my parents and we don’t do something together. They are my daughter’s primary baby-sitters and are very generous toward her.

‘However, I am starting to see that there will be a difference, based solely on gender, in my parents’ treatment of both children. When my son was barely a week old, my father said that he was looking forward to taking him fishing. When I remarked that my daughter had a fishing pole and, due to the age difference between her and her brother, would be a more appropriate companion, still no invitation was forthcoming.

‘When my father invited my husband fishing the following week, my father grumbled at the suggestion that they take my daughter along.

‘My son is now two and a half months old, and my father is looking forward to participating with him in Little League, soccer, etc. Again, both my husband and I chimed in that the same activities are also available for girls. Silence.

‘What really disturbs me is that after these rebuffs my daughter sometimes quietly says to me, ‘Mama, I am proud we both are girls.’ I don’t know where she gets this from, but she’ll often repeat it and in more of a forlorn tone than an enthusiastic one.’


Christopher Whitaker

As a Millennial, I work with a lot of people who are my parents age. The State of Illinois only hires when it really has to resulting in a huge generation gap. You would think that this would cause conflict, but it really doesn’t I get along better with the Boomers than I do the X’ers in my office. The first reason is mutual respect: I respect them for their wisdom, their service in Vietnam am, and they respect me for my energy, my technological savvy and my generations service in Iraq and Afghanistan. (really, it’s the military service that forms a common thread with the guy boomers) I’ve been lucky enough to have fantastic co-workers so much that I now have several ‘office moms’ who now have an ‘office son ‘ whose more than willing to show them how to do tricks in Outlook and Excel.
I can’t stress the importance of mutual respect. It’s what makes the whole thing work. Without that, I become the young ambitious upstart and they become the old fogeys who can’t figure out how to operate their computers – and nobody wants that!

Michele Costanza

I often see organizations take on the metaphor of a “machine” with a lot of processes, policies, and procedures. Organizations also take on the metaphor of a “family,” often with favoritism and expectations that employees will fill certain roles (dad, mom, brother, sister, husband, wife). With more generations working side by side, organizations seem to be moving toward this metaphor of the workplace as a “family.” Could we find a happy medium between “machine” and “family”?

I have certain expectations of my employer, which I don’t have of my family. My relationship with my family isn’t based on conditions, like work for a paycheck. From my perspective (as a cynical GenXer), my family doesn’t compensate me or evaluate me. I don’t like it when employers use the “family” metaphor to describe the workplace. I would add as a tip to resolving intergenerational conflict in the workforce, avoid viewing the workplace as a “family.” Is it difficult to view colleagues, co-workers, managers, and subordinates as professionals without putting them in a role, such as “wife” or “sister” or “brother” or “child”?

Andrea Schneider

This is an excellent conversation and posting. Great for our group on “Who Runs the Show” which is also looking at the paradigms for generational and cross generational challenges and benefits.
What I see if the opportunity for really strong teams, playing to our strengths. Without a doubt respect all the way around is essential as a foundation. Instead of seeing competition I see collaboration for much stronger programs, projects and results. I also see by capitalizing on our abilities the opportunity to save a ton of money.