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Who Makes the Rules? Resolving Generational Conflicts at Work

Photo By Pedro Simões

Photo By Pedro Simões

Part of the resentment Baby Boomers have towards the younger generations in the workforce is the ease in which they express “What’s In It For Me?”

It stems from the remnants of company loyalty and fealty that were drummed into their heads when they were starting out; even though our boomers mostly know intellectually that there is very little reciprocity of loyalty, old habits die hard.  The “rules” say that it is unseemly to always be asking that question.

Part of the resentment Gen X has towards the younger generations is that they view the “What’s In It For Me?” as entitlement.  After all, most of Gen X stifled it just like the boomers, and now perhaps after two or three jobs where they didn’t feel appreciated, didn’t have the stability they wanted, and didn’t have the opportunities they wanted, they too are asking “What’s In It For Me?”  The difference is the Gen X feels like they’ve paid their dues, and it really pisses them off to see younger workers getting perks without having run the gauntlet.

Part of the resentment that Gen X and Boomers have towards the younger generation is that Gen Y doesn’t respect the rules, and to them, it means that the younger generation doesn’t respect them.

Gen Y just wants to make a contribution and resent the old hierarchies that make progress nearly impossible.  It doesn’t mean that they don’t respect those who came before them.

To solve this problem, leaders have to examine what the rules are (e.g. what’s our culture?), who makes the rules and do these rules make sense?

So, here are some quick things leaders can do starting today.

Recognize the signs that things aren’t going well.  Are there cliques forming?  Is there a lot of conversation about how work should be done (micromanaging, especially peer-to-peer)?  Is there a lot of complaining about other employees? Eyerolling? Sneers?

There are several common denominators amongst the generations and leaders can create environments that appeal to everyone.  First and foremost, everyone wants to be respected both for themselves and their ideas.  As leaders, we must insist that people are treated with respect.  Everyone wants to make a contribution.  Let them.  Everyone wants to feel appreciated.  (This one gets more tricky, because how each person feels appreciation will vary with the individual.)

As leaders, it is up to us to evolve an engage.

Be Your Best You Today,


P.s.- The long term solution to creating an effective multi-generational workplace involves leadership and conversation.  Honest conversation.  Feedback.  The question becomes, are the leaders in our organizations sufficiently skilled to host and foster this sort of open dialogue?  In most cases, the answer is no, they aren’t.  Unfortunately, this also tends to be a blind spot.  Improve Performance NOW! adresses this gap. Please visit the website for more information about upcoming preview calls.

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2 Responses to “Who Makes the Rules? Resolving Generational Conflicts at Work”

  • shoosty1:

    Well written, love the picture, the subject is poignant. Young workers have big expectations assimilation is kind of like bucking a bronco.

  • Shoosty1,
    Thank you for your comment. You know, we all forget that we had big expectations when we got our first job. I thought there would be more mentoring. I thought there would be more support. Us “old folks” forget that we built these things over time, and we too didn’t always know the rules. Oh….the stories I could tell!

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