Conflicts Arise When Generations Collide

Article excerpt

Byline: Timothy R. Homan Medill News Service

For the first time, experts say, the mainstream U.S. labor force consists of four distinct generations. And that can present a new set of challenges to managers.

The challenge is for companies to not only capitalize on the array of talents these generations exhibit, but to avert potential age-based misunderstandings in the office.

"Inter-generational conflicts can really have a disastrous effect on morale," said Greg Geissenberger, 34, owner of the Arlington Heights Express Personnel Services branch of Oklahoma- based Express Services Inc., which calls itself the world's largest privately owned staffing firm. "It can create turnover and miscommunication."

The groups are defined as the Traditionalists; Baby Boomers; Generation X, born between 1965 and 1980; and Generation Y, born after 1980.

The culprit in most age-related conflicts is a difference in upbringing.

Colleagues "need to realize they're looking at the world through different filters," said Geissenberger, noting nearly 50 percent of Traditionalists, born between 1925 and 1945, are armed forces veterans. Hence their propensity to favor hierarchy and structure, while younger workers may come across as challenging authority when in fact they could just be "thinking outside the box."

"You really have to find a way to engage the different generations to retain your best employees," said Paul Shanahan, a 39-year-old district manager in Chicago for Randstad North America, a subsidiary of Netherlands-based Randstad Holding NV, the world's fourth largest publicly owned staffing company. "Those that are proactive are going to come out ahead in the long run; the status quo companies will suffer."

Employees cite satisfaction with benefits as the main reason for staying with a company, but a close second is whether they find the work rewarding.

At least 50 percent of Generation Y workers say they're always in search of a better job, with only 36 percent saying they want to be working for their current employer in two years' time, according to Randstad's 2004 Employee Review.

With 68 million workers, Generation Y, born after 1980, already constitutes a formidable presence in the labor force, compared with Generation X and its 40 million.

Perhaps the most striking contrast between Generation Y and their colleagues concerns personal satisfaction from employment. …