Organizations continue to experience an increasingly diverse workforce. While surface-level diversity (that which is visible) can and does play a part in the thoughts, the attitudes and resulting behavior of employees, that which stems from a deeper-level of diversity impacts the success of the workplace. One area of deep-level diversity stems from the differences between individuals from various generations, and these intergenerational differences cause some of the most trouble in the workplace today.

Most prevalent are those differences between the newer members of the workforce (Generations Y & Z) and the baby boomer and Generation X employees. It is imperative business leaders develop strategies to mitigate the negative impact of the differences while capitalizing on the positive aspects of the intergenerational workforce.

Critical questions business leaders should be asking include 1) what are the intergenerational differences influencing organizational success? 2) what is the impact? and 3) what can be done?

Differences at a Glance
Research has identified differences between the younger generations and those who have been serving in the workforce a bit longer. The areas found to be of the greatest influence are those relating to communication and commitment.

The older generational members often view millennials and Gen Z employees as challenged when it comes to communication. The perception is that younger employees have difficulty carrying on a person-to-person conversation whether face-to-face or on the phone, whereas the Gen Y or Z employee considers himself or herself to be quite adept at communication. Why the difference? Part of the answer is due to the utilization of technology. While most millennials are skilled at utilizing technology, it is viewed as a distractor rather than a tool. In contrast, millennials perceive their older colleagues as being slower in responding to messages and unwilling to adapt to technological changes.

The second critical issue to address is that of commitment. Here is where much of the conflict occurs when it comes to the baby boomer and Gen X generations verses the Gen Y and Z generations. Research has indicated there is a significant difference in perception of commitment to the millennial to an organization. When more than 6,300 job seekers and veteran HR professionals were asked, 84 percent of millennials said they believe they are loyal to their jobs while in the same study, only one percent of HR professionals said they believe millennials are loyal to their positions and employers. Another study found the average length of time a millennial remains with his or her employer is three years. If this is the case, and those same millennials view this as commitment and loyalty, therein lies part of the issue. The millennials’ view of loyalty and commitment diverges drastically from the baby boomer generation.

Related to the retention of millennials is the strength of their work ethic. While 86 percent of millennials in the same study viewed themselves as “hard-working,” only 11 percent of the HR professionals agreed that to be the case. When it comes to performance appraisals, this is an obvious issue to address. How do we convince millennials and Gen Z employees to remain in an organization if they discover their performance was actually perceived as poor?

The Bottom Line
A company’s profit and revenue stream can be deeply hurt when there is conflict in an organization. The objective for any for-profit company is to add value to stakeholders while achieving its mission and gaining a competitive advantage. Yet, with continued conflict as a result of the intergenerational differences, it is necessary to identify the impact of the problems and allocate resources to address the problems. A low rate of retention of millennial and Gen Z workers, ineffective communication, decreased job performance and job dissatisfaction are just a few of the impacts identified as a result of intergenerational conflict.

The Answer
So, who is correct? Are millennials committed to their employers or not? How do we identify what is needed for our companies to achieve and sustain a competitive advantage while respecting and embracing the differences among generations?

We must identify ways in which we can better retain valuable knowledge, skills and abilities that all employees bring to our organizations. Addressing the issues of conflict may be as simple as intentionally practicing new social norms. Encouraging the sharing of ideas and acknowledging input and performance outcomes is a start that is cost-effective. For instance, millennials are known for their ability to multitask. Organizations can use this exceptional skill to their advantage and design work with the need for multitasking in mind. In contrast, baby boomers and Gen X employees have a wealth of experience and knowledge to be shared with their younger counterparts.

Finally, encouraging coaching and mentoring to take place across generational lines within an organization has been shown to make a significant impact in reducing the intergenerational conflict among employees. It is time for business leaders to embrace and capitalize on the differences within their organizations. In doing so, the organizations are more likely to experience the competitive advantage they seek.

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