TIPS: Intergenerational Conflict in the Workplace

By Tony Thompsonyoung-vs-old
If managing or just dealing with co-workers who are significantly older or younger than you has been a problem lately, let me suggest a recent book: “Generations, Inc.,” by Larry and Meagan Johnson, a father-daughter team.
It is obvious that we are all significantly formed by our personal experiences. It is also fairly obvious that certain groups (African Americans say) have experiences that are unique to members of that group. But, for some reason, it is not as obvious that people born in different generations can have very different attitudes about work, about family, about authority.
The Johnsons’ definition of a generation is fairly standard. According to them, there are currently five generations in the workplace:

  • Traditionals (born before 1946)
  • Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964)
  • Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980)
  • Generation Y (born between 1980 and 1995)
  • Linksters (born after 1995): If you’ve never heard the term “Linkster” before, you’re probably not alone. Since a Linkster would have been at most 15 years old when this book was published, it’s not clear why the Johnsons included them in a book about the workplace.

Generational differences have at their root the significant experiences unique to that generation. These experiences are called signposts.
An experience that caused a permanent social change is called a life law, because subsequent generations have no knowledge of life before that experience. Life laws can also be a source of intergenerational conflict when the older person is heavily invested emotionally in the circumstances that caused the life law to come to be (think Hillary Clinton in 2007-2008, when some Baby Boomer mothers were astounded that their Generation Y daughters didn’t find anything special about a serious female Presidential candidate).
The book is divided into a set of chapters for each generation. There is more material on the Boomer,
GenX, and GenY age groups. For each of these groups, the authors first list a timeline of critical events for that generation, followed by some generalizations about that cohort, followed by a separate chapter with tips for managing workers from that generation.
I found the generalized information on each generation somewhat interesting and, for the most part, found the management tips obvious. For example, they give 19 tips, with detailed explanations, for managing GenXers. But I’m a Baby Boomer, and I found almost all of those 19 tips to be things that I would like to have in the workplace.
Then there is the Yahoo telecommuting policy announced last month. Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s CEO, informed all of her employees that the company was abolishing telecommuting; from now on, everyone must work in the office. Two of the Johnsons’ tips for managing GenXers are providing schedule flexibility and supporting employee lifestyles. Two of the tips for managing GenYers are flextime and a virtual work environment. Guess this Marissa Mayer just doesn’t get it. BTW, Mayer was born in 1975. Six months ago she gave birth to her first child, a boy.

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