Tension in the Office: The Generational Barriers That Decrease Productivity

106428091-resize-380x300In America, more than one in three people waste twelve percent of their work week on conflicts between colleagues from different generations (Entrepreneur magazine survey of 1,350 employees). In the same study it was determined that the age-related stereotypes came from both young and older employees.  For example, some of the younger generation felt “She lacks motivation because she is old,” and the older generation felt “She lacks motivation because she is young.  This type of conflict leads to self-fulfilling prophecies: people make judgments that a person’s behavior is the result of their age, therefore it is never confronted.  As a result things never change.

Across all generations, 25% of people in this study admitted to avoiding conflict with colleagues of a different age. The study also found that younger generations are reluctant to hold older generations accountable while older generations confessed that they lose their temper more easily than the younger. At the same time, the Millennials are the least confident in their ability to handle a difficult situation.

So how do we begin to resolve the generational barriers that are causing workplace conflicts and are lowering productivity?  The most effective method for getting everyone back on track is to encourage productive dialogue between colleagues.  Be sure to follow these steps in taking action and opening up conversation between employees.

  1. Be clear. Make sure that you begin by stating your respect for all employees and share the goal of the dialogue.
  2. Just the facts.  Start with the facts that are creating the conflict rather than focusing on your judgments of the situation.
  3. Keep it cool.  If your colleague becomes defensive take a moment to reiterate that your goal is not to attack, but to create a more positive work environment.  Make sure to allow time for him or her to express their thoughts and concerns as well.
  4. Listen. After sharing all of your concerns, be sure to invite your colleague to share any additional concerns that they may have.  This shows your respect for their feelings and your willingness to have an open dialogue on how you can make some changes to accommodate your colleagues better.

It is easy for a workplace to slip into an intergenerational rut where conflicts and tensions are continuously unresolved.  However, if approached candidly, open dialogue can remove the conflicts and build an improved team culture within an organization.