Study: Work Ethic Primary Conflict Among Different Generations

A new survey finds that 40 percent of human resource (HR) professionals have observed conflict among employees as a result of generational differences. In organizations with 500 or more employees, 58 percent of HR professionals reported conflict between younger and older workers, largely due to differing perceptions of work ethic and work/life balance.

"Organizations recognize that the expertise and unique perspectives of a diverse workforce can contribute to the success of a company," said SHRM President and CEO Susan R. Meisinger, SPHR. "HR professionals can help managers and employees use communication and training to remove generational barriers to enhance the effectiveness and productivity of their diverse workforce and improve the overall success of the organization."

The Society for Human Resource Management's 2004 Generational Differences Survey asked HR professionals about employees from different generations working together, the quality of their work, types of conflicts, retention factors, and strengths and weaknesses of each generation. The survey identified four generations: Veterans, those born before 1945; Baby Boomers, born from 1945 to 1964; Generation X (GenXers), born from 1965 to 1980; and Nexters (aka Millennials, or Generation Y), born after 1980.

Overall, HR professionals are generally positive about relationships among the generations with half saying they work effectively together, and 27 percent saying the quality of work frequently improves with a variety of generational perspectives. Yet, 28 percent of HR professionals said conflict among generations had increased over the last five years, and 33 percent expect it to increase over the next five.

Nearly a quarter of HR professionals say differences over acceptable work hours are the primary sources of conflict, which reflects different perceptions of work ethic and benefits like telecommuting and flextime. Frequently, these complaints came from older workers about younger employees' willingness to work longer hours. Past SHRM research finds that work/life balance is among the most important job satisfaction factors for younger employees and is typically not as important among older workers.

HR professionals use many methods for managing a diverse workforce. A vast majority said communicating company information in multiple ways, including e-mail, one-on-one discussions and meetings is extremely effective. In addition, HR professionals said that training managers to address generational differences, offering team-building activities and developing mentoring programs to encourage workers of different generations to work together are also effective in managing an intergenerational workforce.

Finally, 42 percent of HR professionals said their organization had lost GenXers and Nexter employees who believed they could not advance in their careers because Veterans and Baby Boomers held top positions. HR
professionals reported implementing succession planning programs, offering training or increasing compensation in order to retain younger workers.

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