Promoting Work Peace: Five Tips for Reducing Generational Conflict at the Office

Generational Conflict in the Workplace

Today's guest blog comes from Teresa Hopke, SVP of client relations for Life Meets Work. Teresa is an award-winning expert on work-life and talent management strategy whose expertise has been featured in multiple media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, CBS Morning Show, Wall Street Journal, and HR Magazine. 

There is a tsunami brewing that most employers don't see coming. In 10 years, Millennials will make up 75% of the workforce. That's 3 out of every 4 employees.

Most organizations are out of touch with reality when it comes to the impact this demographic shift will have on the way we work and live. People I talk to today complain about how horrible it is to work with this "entitled, lazy and arrogant" generation. And many (hem hem......Boomers) don't see why WE should have to change for THEM.

On an episode of Newhart (can you tell I'm not a Millennial?!) Bob once said......"I'd like to make a motion to embrace reality." I'd like to second that motion.

The reality is...the way we work and live is going to need to change. Not only will the majority of our employees soon be Millennials, but our clients/customers will be too. If you don't do something to change mindsets and close the generational divide in your organization, you are going to end up in a world of hurt.

Secrets to Reducing Generational Conflict

How do we embrace reality? Here are five key actions:

Build Generational Intelligence

Just like intelligence and emotional intelligence are critical competencies of successful leaders, so is generational intelligence. Invest in building it at all levels of your organization in order to reduce conflict, misunderstanding, and morale issues.

One way to do that is to host inter-generational "mash-up" sessions where generations can talk about the issues getting in the way and educate each other on how to effectively work across generations.

Recognize the Evolving Needs of all Employees

Challenge assumptions about generational differences and embrace the idea that maybe we really aren't so different after all. The words that Boomers use to describe Millennials today are the same words that were used to describe them in a 1968 Life Magazine article entitled "The Generation Gap."

While it is easy to blame things on generational differences, the reality is that work styles, career/life stage, and personality differences also contribute to the differences showing up across generations. And regardless of generation, the way people want to work and live today is changing so don't just blame the Millennials for your need to shake up antiquated work practices.

Rethink Communications

Don't expect traditional communication channels to work the same with Millennials as they have with everyone else. As a leader recently told me "I can't get any of my new people to speak up and tell me what they are thinking during team meetings, but if I send them a text I can learn every detail of how they are feeling about something."

Utilize technology and social media as a tool for communicating. Get creative. Crowdsource ideas on bathroom mirrors or walls covered with whiteboard paint. Utilize Instagram, Twitter and other social media sources to allow employees to foster transparency.

Stop Judging Millennial Job Hopping

Leaders think that Millennials quit without really giving the job a chance. But in reality, the #1 reason Millennials leave is poor culture fit. They give the job a chance, but Millennials aren't going to stay with you if you don't create an awesome work experience. Period. End of story.

And to be honest, we expect employee loyalty, but we don't give security or commitment in return when we hire them with "90 day trial periods" and "at will" employment agreements. How about if we all just accept that Millennials view jobs as an opportunity to build their skills (which they view as portable) to prepare for their next role.

That's only scary to us if we don't have opportunities within our organizations for them to "hop" to. Set up tours of duty like LinkedIn and others do so that Millennials can make the choice to hop within.

Help Millennials Grow

Part of the reason the older generations find Millennials to be such a pain in the arse is that they want the things that make our roles as managers/leaders challenging. They want feedback honest, frequent feedback that will help them grow. They want coaching positive support that will build them up and help them succeed. They want opportunities frequent chances to take on new projects, work in new roles, and grow their skills in different ways.

Given the massive leadership skills gap that most organizations will be facing over the next 10 years, we'd be wise to find ways to help Boomers leave a legacy by teaching Millennials the norms for getting ahead and taking over the leadership reigns.

The Millennial Majority: Coming Soon to a Workforce Near You

Like it or not, Millennials don't have to adapt to the wicked ways of our workforces. They will soon be the majority. And we all know that it's hard to maintain the power when you aren't the majority.

So instead of bemoaning their existence and perceived neediness and insisting that we don't need to be the ones to change for them, how about we use this opportunity to create a way of working and living that avoids generational conflict and brings out the best in this new majority? After all, as author Lauren Rikleen said, "We raised them...the least we can do is work with them."

Learn more about what millennials want at work in the recent study published by EdAssist and Bright Horizons, and this webinar discussing millennials in the workplace with MasterCard's Chief Learning Officer and EdAssist's General Manager.