The Modern Work Place and the Generation Clash

The generation clash in the workplace today is proving to be quite challenging. A lack of understanding and increasing tension between many older managers and their younger employees is adding to this tension and with a workforce that is ageing rapidly more people will leave the workforce than enter it for the first time in history. That in itself is bound to create a whole new set of challenges and difficulty. We know the generation clash is ever prevalent and ever felt, but what can be done to embrace the strengths and diversities that a multi-generational workforce offers. First off, why the generation clash in the work force now? Previously people from different generations have worked together successfully; why is this generation any different? Can’t we all just do our job, and go home to our separate/personal lives? Maybe not; says Peter Sheahan (2006), a leading Australian author and expert on Generation Y (people born between 1979 and 1994).

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Sheahan observes that, “Employers are finding it increasingly difficult to understand and deal with young workers. The most pressing workforce challenge confronting the business community today is how to attract, manage, and retain the new generation of talent (Sheahan, 2006, pp 198). Sheahan also states, “The companies that will successfully wage the war for this talent will be those that understand and accept that Generation Y brings radically different demands and expectations to the workplace than previous generations; those that do not will seek early retirement” (Sheahan, 2006, pp 204). Could it be possible that the Baby Boomers (people born between 1946 and 1964) perceive the Gen Y’s to be lazy, impatient, overly confident, and their expectations and demands often exceeding their skills? Could it also be that while members of Generation Y are at total ease with new technology, they’re multi-skilled, and they are risk takers who embrace change? Right or wrong, one might possibly start to think so.

With that knowledge in hand, how do managers handle a generation that thinks they know everything, who will not hesitate to leave a job even if they are happy, and who feel they should be rewarded just for showing up? Generation Y’s are attracted to meaningful and challenging roles in fun, team-oriented environments that offer flexible working arrangements. Gen Y’s also respond best to a mentoring management style where managers set clear objectives and expected results, but allow for individual creativity and input in the process.

Generation Y’s desire independence with strings which has a lot to do with the way they were raised by their Baby Boomer parents. My father will be the first one to say, “When you work from home, how does your boss really know you are actually working?” I just smile and start my lecture all over again. Old dogs, including my father, will go out as a legend…but probably not for his people management skills. This paper is a review of the available literature regarding generation clash in the workplace. It seeks to establish what can be done to embrace the strengths and diversities that a multi-generational workforce offers.

Values and Principles

Workers from different generations have different values and principles. They behave differently depending on their growth history (Dessler 2004). The occurrences that people encounter as they grow largely affect their future. For example, as Kersten (2000) observes, the veterans who were born between 1922 and 1945 have strong value for work and ethics. They tend to be hard working, respectful to the management, dedicated to their work to the extent of sacrificing their private time to accomplish tasks and also adherents to the workplace rules and regulations. On the other hand, Parvis (2003) highlights the characteristics of the baby boomers group, which comprises the majority in senior positions as people who do not get exhausted easily. According to him, they tend to be efficient in accomplishing tasks. They tend to maintain quality regardless of the prevailing circumstances or workplace rules and regulations. They question the management regarding their tasks, especially if they feel that their efforts are being hampered by the authorities in the workplace. This group mainly comprises of people who were born from 1946-1964 (Pellet 2004).

Kersten (2000) views the generation X as a group who are mainly focused on making work easier rather than toiling throughout their day to day activities. They like independence in their activities, so long as there is a clear working framework and guidelines to follow. This group tends to be skeptical about the working structures (Sondra 2003). The last and most volatile group consists of the people who were born between 1981 and 2000, referred to as generation Y. They consist of a small percentage in most work places (Scott 2007). Dessler (2004) observes that this group is usually eager and curious regarding what is going to happen next after taking a particular action. They tend to engage in numerous tasks and are persistent to accomplish their objectives. They are entrepreneurs who are able to tolerate harsh operating conditions, and they work to fulfill particular demands in life. They differ from the veterans who take work as a responsibility, or the baby boomers who derive much excitement from work.

Attitudes towards Work

The numerous differences regarding attitudes towards work as well as authorities make each group unique. The occurrences that the three groups have witnessed in their life time are associated with their behaviors (Kersten 2000). For example, the veterans and the baby boomers have undergone trying times when they had to suffer a lot physically and emotionally. These include times such as the first and the Second World Wars, oppression by colonial governments, and diseases among other calamities that are not common in the current day. They are therefore likely to derive enthusiasm from working without major problems from the external environment (Parvis 2003). On the other hand, the generation X and Y grew in a time when severe economic crisis, draught, climate change, terrorism, drug abuse and trafficking, many social evils as well as technological advancement were at high heights, especially for generation Y. They are therefore unlikely to focus so much on only one source of income, especially due to the doubts that exist regarding the economic changes occurring globally. Globalization and population explosion has largely affected their daily lives. Dessler (2004) observes that the rising population has reduced the employment opportunities and permanent jobs. Economic crises, inflation has led to a rise in the cost of living making personal development difficult. The two groups develop impatience especially when they realize that there is a likelihood of impediments which may hamper the accomplishment of goals. This is a major reason why workers in this group leave one company to the other severally as they search for the most promising companies whereby the management is favorable for the accomplishment of personal development (Pellet 2004). Parvis (2003) observes that the major difference between the two groups and the rest is the fact that they strive towards personal and career development than the aging workforce in the veteran and the baby boomers groups who have accomplished much in their careers as well as personal lives.

Clash Situations

Clash situations in the workplace usually occur especially regarding supervisory matters. The historical perspective of each group is a major determinant of the manner in which each group prefers to be supervised (Pellet 2004). The generations X and Y usually prefer a flexible workplace whereby supervisors and managers are highly adaptable with the emergent issues. On the other hand, the baby boomers and the veterans are highly conservative and take a longer period to accept new developments in the organization, regardless of the value that others attach to them. They believe in the conventional methods of operation, which may be obsolete according to the X and Y generations (Kersten 2000). Such misapprehension is likely to cause workplace conflicts and low employee retention. In most cases, the veteran and the baby boomer managers tend to accuse the X and Y generations of impatience and un-procedural. They prefer the bureaucratic processes to be followed in accomplishing tasks. This has contributed to redundancy amongst the X and Y generations, and the tendency for the organizations being managed by the veterans and the baby boomers to maintain an aging workforce (Dessler 2004).

Impact of the Generation Gap in the Workplace

In many situations the generation gap causes problems in the work place, especially in organizations where flexibility is not encouraged. It results in failure of employee satisfaction and poor performance as one or two groups of employees try to accomplish a work-life balance. When this is not accomplished due to conservativeness in the management, employees are unlikely to perform. They might take their work as a compulsion, rather than a responsibility. Parvis (2003) observes that many organizations are maintaining an aging workforce due to the inability to cope with the demands of the generation Y and X. On the other hand, these generations feel that they can perform better were it left alone for them to manage the organization without the veterans and the baby boomers. However, Kersten (2000) is of the view that all generations play a significant role in the success of an organization. There needs to be knowledge sharing amongst the workers. This means that the endurance of the veterans and the baby boomers can be transferred to the generations X and Y in order for them to cope with the conventional minded management. On the other hand, the aging work force needs to be inclined towards flexibility in order to adopt the new methods of operation whereby the generations X and Y are best suited, and which can assist in steering the organization towards success.

Importance of a Multi-generational Workforce

Harmonization of the conception regarding workplace issues is one of appropriate ways of creating a productive workforce that consists of all the generations. Sealing the generation gap is important in order to ensure that each member of the workforce feels appreciated. This tends to promote high commitment, especially when a new idea is tried and helps in improving the organizational productivity. Pellet (2004) notes that supporting inventiveness in the workplace is not only concerned with the provision of finances and materials. Rather, moral support through appreciating the initiative of others and integrating it in the organizational operations helps in the maintenance of inventive employees. It generates enthusiasm amongst them, which is critical for the competitiveness of an organization. It also contributes to growth especially when new technologies emerge (Kersten 2000). The generation groups have different incentives that can help in the improvement of performance. For example, the generation X and Y groups may be pleased with incentives such as study leaves, workplace study and such. On the other hand, the veterans usually feel they do not deserve leaves; they may be pleased by medical covers, while the baby boomers may need loans to purchase property (Scott 2007). These differences need to be understood whenever the management decides to offer incentives to the employees.

Maintaining a Multi-generational Diversity in the Workforce

In order to balance the various generations in the workplace, the management needs to understand the various motivating factors for each generation. For example, as Parvis (2003) notes, a good standard of living is a major motivator for the generation X, which is different from the veterans who focus their interests on satisfaction. On the other hand, the generation X and Y need to appreciate the wealth of knowledge and experience possessed by the veterans and the baby boomers (Pellet 2004). In general, no group should look down upon the other. This is because each has something to contribute to the success of an organization. Communication is essential in all situations where people interact. The acceptability of ideas depends on the manner in which they are stated (Dessler 2004). To sum it up, Kersten (2000) argues that age should not be a hindrance regarding knowledge sharing. It needs to be ignored and ideas taken as they are presented, regardless of the presenter.


Generation clash is an important aspect of organizations that determines its success as well as the ability to retain a skilled workforce. Each generation is unique depending on the experiences encountered as people grow up. Generation X and Y have almost the same motivators, apart from a few differences concerned with emotions and attitudes regarding supervision and personal aspirations. Their motivators are almost opposite those of the veterans and baby boomers. However, a combination of the aspects of all the generations may translate in to a successful organization, so long as each group is accorded the respect that it deserves. This can be accomplished through understanding all the motivating factors for each group, as well as ensuring that the incentives offered are suitable. Effective communication is core to harmonizing the operations in a diverse work force (Dessler 2004). Age should also be disregarded in order to ensure that every person has an opportunity to present his/her idea.


Dessler, G. (2004). Management Principles and Practices for Tomorrow’s Leaders. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall.

Kersten, A. (2000). Diversity Management Dialogue, Dialectics and Diversion. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 13, pp. 235-248.

Parvis, L. (2003). Diversity and effective leadership in multicultural workplaces. Journal of Environmental Health, 65, pp.37-38.

Pellet, J. 2004. Driving diversity:  diverse work forces make for better companies. Chief Executive, 198, pp. 48-55.

Scott P. 2007. The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Sheahan, P. (2006) Generation y: thriving and surviving with generation y at work (pp. 198-204). Victoria, Austrailia: Hardie Grant Publishig.

Sondra B. T. (2003). Making Diversity Work: 7 Steps for Defeating Bias in the Workplace, Chicago: Dearborn.



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