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According to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, “40 percent of human resource professionals have observed conflict among employees as a direct result of generational differences.” Managers need to learn to recognize the different sources of conflict among generations. Because of the different perspectives on work ethic and on work-life balance, there are many opportunities for “miscommunications, low morale, or poor productivity”.

The biggest workplace conflict across generations is the work ethic debate. The definition of work ethic is “a belief in work as a moral good” and “moral” means “right or wrong behavior.” Each generation has a different idea of “right or wrong behavior” so the definition of work ethic does indeed differ across generations, and it may be impossible to reconcile those differences.

Older generations “paid their dues” and are not receptive to rules as “open for suggestion,” whereas younger generations want to change work hours, rules and methods. Work quality should not be sacrificed for any reason, and managers should consider results rather than process.

The second biggest work conflict is the work-life balance. Employers need to consider all employees’ needs when trying to strike a work-life balance. Whether they think so or not, all employees benefit from a work-life balance.

Each generation has a unique response to conflict. Radio Babies respect authority and will avoid confrontation. Boomers expect a team meeting to determine some kind of resolution. Gen Xers have the most straightforward conflict approach–they will tell it like it is. Gen Yers tend to be casual and laid back. They need coaching on how to confront issues and people in a positive and assertive way.

In all cases, and across all generations, managers should practice providing constructive feedback. In terms of delivering constructive criticism, managers should:

  1. focus on the issue,

  2. emphasize key points,

  3. be specific about thoughts and desired outcomes,

  4. acknowledge others’ points of view, and

  5. avoid hot button language.

When delivering constructive criticism to Radio Babies, managers should acknowledge effort and tell them how their behavioral changes will increase their value. With Boomers, managers should express how much their input is valued and create an action plan to change their behavior. Managers can be straightforward and honest with Gen Xers, and focus on desired results. With Gen Yers, managers should emphasize the business reason for the behavior change, and how this impacts the company.

Organizations that successfully resolve miscommunications, misunderstandings, and unproductive conflict focus on results.

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