Intergenerational Diversity: Challenges and Conflicts in the Workplace

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Intergenerational Diversity

Challenges and Conflicts in the Workplace

Today's American workforce is unique. Never before has there been a workplace so diverse in so many ways: Race, gender, ethnicity, and generational differences exist to a greater extent than ever before. As the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (2004) study reported, large corporations could lose between two and four percent bottom line productivity due to generational differences and miscommunication in the workplace. The same study also asserts that billions of dollars are lost each year because corporate leadership has not yet recognized, nor accounted for, the impact of significantly different generational diversity values, attitudes, and expectations about work and the workplace. The U.S. Labor Bureau is not alone in sharing its concern over workplace generational diversity. The Hudson Institute's Workforce 2000 Diversity report (1987) also echoes the government's concern. In this research paper we will be exploring the issue of generational diversity—the tension and challenge, and promise and opportunity. Many studies have categorized generations, separating them by the years they were born. Though the studies differ in the exact birth years that each generation spans, they are in general agreement. For purposes of this paper, we will use the following generation categories (Tyler, 2002).

Traditionalist:born prior to 1945 (sometimes called the Veterans)
Baby Boomers:born between 1945-1964
Generation X:born between 1965-1980 (also called Gen X'ers, and the Diversity Generation) Generation Y:born 1981-2001 (also called Nexters, Gen Y'ers, and the Millennial Generation)

According to Loden and Rosener,
Diversity is otherness or those human qualities that are different from our own and outside the groups [sic] to which we belong, yet present in other individuals and groups. Dimensions of diversity include, but are not limited to: age, ethnicity, ancestry, gender, physical abilities/qualities, race, sexual orientation, educational background, geographic location, income, marital status, military experience, religious beliefs, parental status, and work experience. (1991, p.27)

Identifying the potential roadblocks to success that intergenerational diversity may present, and turning multigenerational knowledge, talent, experience, and opinions into strengths, can provide companies with an incredible advantage in today's competitive business environment. Intergenerational Conflicts

Many companies do not recognize the impact of generational diversity. Hence, the companies have a "single generation's expectations of benefits and conditions, and the result is that they alienate at least half of their staffers." (Gomolski, 2001, para. 2) These conflicts occur because diversity of generations is not correctly recognized as a problem. Intergenerational conflicts typically rise due to several factors. Bruce Tulgan (2000) identified least four consistent themes, conflicts, or challenges that seem to exist between the younger and older workers. The first theme is the sense of belonging. Many younger workers feel they are not given the opportunity to make a significant and meaningful contribution. Second is the theme of learning. Younger workers feel that they are not given sufficient access to important job-related information. The third theme is entrepreneurship, wherein younger workers want to define their own work problems, develop solutions at their own pace and produce their own results. The last theme is security. Younger workers want to be able to monitor the success rate of their performance, monitor their status at work, and measure how they specifically contribute to the return on their own investment (p. 33). This research paper examines these and similar issues related to intergenerational diversity.

In addition to the above themes, there are other factors that lead to intergenerational...
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