Magazine article Workforce Management

From Conflict to 'Cohorts'-When Young, Older Workers Mix

Magazine article Workforce Management

From Conflict to 'Cohorts'-When Young, Older Workers Mix

Article excerpt

The organization was in decline with older members seizing control and the younger generation feeling frustrated. As young members left, the organization became "top heavy with old people." Succession was a struggle, and the organization lost status within the community. Managing generations in the workplace may be especially daunting today as the millennials butt heads with Generation X and the baby boomers. But generational conflict has been a challenge, well, for generations. The above example comes not from a 2010 corporate office environment, but rather from a 1957 study of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union by Joseph Gusfield, a University of Illinois researcher. Gusfield concluded that two or more generations in an organization lead to factional conflict. More than half a century later, researchers at the University of Illinois see similar tensions in a new study: The gray-haired guy in accounting is a baby boomer so he has probably never even tweeted; the young millennial generation receptionist needs constant praise and would fall to pieces if anyone yelled at her, which is unlike the 35-year-old tech guy who's a cynical Gen Xer. While there's validity to such generational differences, the researchers say they believe managers can encourage more open-minded, flexible thinking and build "intergenerational cohorts" to help produce harmony and productivity. The 2010 study, Unpacking Generational Identities in Organizations, which was conducted by three professors and a graduate student and appeared in the Academy of Management Review, analyzed generational research dating back to the 1920s. The researchers also reviewed decades of sociological and psychological identity literature and interviewed employees at various organizations. "The main issue is: How do we create intergenerational relationships that allow forexchange of information?" says Aparna Joshi, the study's lead researcher and an associate professor in the school of labor and employment relations at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Establishing such relationships requires employers to understand the differences between age-based and cohort-based identities. Most people share a set of attitudes with those who had similar "coming of age" experiences. "When you enter adulthood, certain collective memories impact you," Joshi says, citing the assassination of President John F. …

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