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Conflict in the workplace is not a new problem. Having many generations working towards the same goal will almost always cause some friction. It becomes the responsibility of administrators/managers in the workplace to not only understand the source of this conflict, but also diffuse it before it becomes counterproductive. Conflict can be a very powerful tool in the workplace if not allowed to get out of hand. Each generation in the workplace has much to learn from the others.
They also have much to teach. Using “The Wheel of Conflict” to understand this conflict will allow for a more productive, and less hostile workplace.
Factors Leading to Conflict
With the recent downturn in the economy and the increased number of individuals entering the workplace after formal education; there has been an increasing number of conflicts within the workplace among individuals from different generations. My generation, generation Y or the millennial generation is generally involved with this conflict. I would like to include a little background on each of the two main generations involved.
Generation X consists of approximately 55 million workers in North America. They were born between 1965 and 1980. It is generally accepted that Gen Xers are called the “latchkey children.” They are self-reliant and independent. They generally enjoy a casual and friendly work environment.
They separate friends from family, and seek a balance between work life and family. Generation Y consists of approximately 80 million workers in North America. They were born between 1981 and 1999. These are the newest individuals to enter the workforce.
They generally celebrate diversity; they’re optimistic, inventive and individualistic. They like to rewrite the rules, and generally enjoy a pleasurable lifestyle. Gen Yers do not see the relevance of most institutions. They are masters of technology, mainly because they have grown up in a world with the Internet and gadgets. Unlike the “latchkey children,” they were nurtured by their parents and see friends as family. They have high expectations and demands, and wish to work for socially responsible companies. Gen Yers are also more involved with politics.
Through examining the differences in the Generation Y and Generation X individuals in the workplace; it can easily be determined that emotions play a very large role in the conflict on both sides. Generation Y seems to have a very high opinion of themselves. They do not like authoritarian leadership styles because they grew up able to question their parents. Unlike previous generations Gen Yers like to make their job accommodate their personal life, not the other way around. They place a high value on self-fulfillment and do not expect to stay in a particular job long because they view career change as “normal.” They are also accustomed to receiving constant feedback and recognition from parents and other figures of authority. They continue to expect this in the workplace.
Generation X and before resent this type of self-important behavior and are generally dismissive of the Gen Yers. In a Lee Hecht Harrison Company survey 70% of older employees were dismissive of younger workers’ abilities, and 50% of younger workers were dismissive of older workers’ abilities. This shows that both groups are equally dismissive of the other. Generation Y employees come from the period of “instant gratification.” As a member of this generation I must say that I cannot recall a time that I wasn’t able to get an answer that I want for a question on any topic.
The Internet is a huge resource and has always been at my fingertips. This has played a large role in creating the attitudes of Generation Y workers. They haven’t had to learn patience. Most Generation Y workers come out of college, with a high self-worth, and expect to make a six-figure salary. That is just not reasonable. Considering that the Gen Yers have been “pampered” by their families, they react like an insolent child when they do not get what they feel they are “owed.” This emotional reaction does not help their case within the workplace. Communication
Another common factor that leads to this conflict has to be communication. As stated before, the younger generation has grown up in a world of technology. They are perfectly confortable communicating through email, sums, or social networking sites. These modes of communication are well
within their comfort zones. This comfort with impersonal communications has one major drawback. Many Gen Yers do not possess the ability to speak face to face, and express their ideas. Inability to communicate will cause great problems in the workplace.
Gen Yers may misinterpret constructive criticism from older colleagues, and older colleagues may feel that younger individuals are disrespectful within the workplace. The fact is that neither group is right, and neither is wrong. Most Gen Yers are not intentionally disrespectful; they simply need to learn how to properly communicate in the workplace. The comfort level they possessed at home is not appropriate at the office. At the same time the older generations need not write off the younger generations because of some communication miscues. Values/Relationships
Values and relationships also play a large role in this conflict. First off Gen Yers consist of nearly 50% of non-native North Americans. Most Gen Yers have liberal attitudes towards gay marriage and interracial dating. They are critical of the ethics and morality of business. They maintain close ties with their families, and are much more active in politics then their counterparts. Either way you look at it they are socially different than their elders. Generation X consisted of the 1960’s and 1970’s. There were racial struggles in the not so distant past. Old stereotypes die hard, and there may be some subconscious issues between the older guard and the newcomers. These issues may not be as blatant as outright racism, but may be subtler.
Gen Yers wouldn’t think twice about seeing a burka in the workplace, whereas Gen X and before may do a double take. Relationships with family also play a large role in this conflict. Firstly Gen Yers are not afraid to live with their parents until they find the right job. This can often be viewed unfavorably by older generations who see this unwillingness to head off on their own as a weakness. Needs
In order to properly address the conflict within the workplace, one must understand the various needs of all parties involved. There are three basic types of issues to consider. The first of these are Substantive Issues. This includes things like money or salary, resources needed for a job, or time. Second is Procedural Issues. These include means that we use to address the conflict. This could be communications or other means that are used to address conflict. Finally Psychological Needs comes into play. These are things that all people generally hold sacred. This includes things like trust, fairness, or respect.
These general needs or issues are the same for all people. They only differ in the perception of them. Managers must understand that 99% of individuals go to work for a paycheck. In a job their substantive needs must be met. For Gen Xers this is pretty easy to handle. With Gen Yers it appears to be a little more complicated. As mentioned earlier, Gen Yers have a very high self-worth. They often feel that they deserve a higher salary that they receive. This will cause morale to drop among them, and open up the opportunity for conflict. Similarly, procedural issues present a problem with Gen Yers.
They resent much about the current structure of business, and expect constant feedback. A little give and take on both sides of the issue will be needed to effectively resolve this problem. Finally the psychological needs are the most difficult thing to address. Because of the cultural differences in the generations, both parties must be open to what each other can bring to the table. Both the Gen Xers and Gen Yers want respect, and each party shows respect in different ways. Therefore, an understanding must be reached to achieve the desired result. If parties feel respected they will be more willing to participate, and trust each other. Conclusion
This is an ongoing circle of conflict. People are creatures of habit and are not generally open to change. Throughout time, each generation has had contempt of some form for the generation that follows. The incoming generation has always felt that they know more than the ones they are replacing. The important thing to remember is that open communication channels will benefit the workplace. Each generation will better understand each other, and will be able to learn from one another. Generation Y must understand that the business world is very different from their childhood. Generation X must understand that not all change is bad. The humorous side of this is that in 20 years. The generation Y will have the same issues with Generation Z as Generation X had with them. Works Cited
Mayer, B. (2000). The Dynamics of Conflict Resolution: A Practitioner’s Guide. San Francisco, CA, USA: Jossey-Bass. Williams, R. (2009, September 8). Why Are You Not Like Me? The Generational Gap In The Workplace. Retrieved February 2, 2012, from Psychology Today: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/200909/why-are-you-not-me-the-generational-gap-in-the-workplace
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