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Generational Differences Challenges for the

The project starts with a brief introduction of the 3 generations in workforce and major difference among them. It than tells various challenges that an employee and organization have to face because of different generations. It ends with recommendations to solve the conflicts.

Mehwish Shams NUST Business School


Generation basically refers to group of people who have the same birth year and they share same significant life events. For example baby boomers who have seen social and political instability, Vietnam War etc. These events shape their personality and thinking. Generational difference in workforce means that employees from different generations or era share same type of behavior and attitude towards the environment and organization and these attitudes are different for different generation since these different generation have seen different events and conditions in their lives and that effect their behavior. The three generations that are employed in workforce today are baby boomers (1946-1964), generation X (1965-1980) and generation Y (1981-2001). To find out the challenges for organization with diverse employees first we lets look at some of differences between the three generations. Table (I) summarize the major differences between the generations. Baby boomers are in the top ranks or are about to retire or already retired. Some of their characteristics are that they follow chain of command, loyal workers, goal oriented, workaholics and want recognition. Then is, Generation X which is in middle level and is supervised by baby boomers. They were grown in a highly competitive environment, seek work life balance, technology know how and want autonomy. Then there is generation Y, which is either in process of choosing a career or is in the middle management. They are very different from baby boomers but possess some characteristics of generation X. They believe respect is earned, dont like following chain of command and authority, want flexible work hours, accept diversity, multi-tasker, technologically advanced in-fact rely on it.

Challenges for Organization:

Few differences between these generations have been discussed above. Now lets discuss the challenges that a firm has to face because of having employees from three different eras. Attitude toward work: All the three generations have grown up in different times and environment and because of this reason they have different approach towards same situation. Their attitudes vary a lot. They bring their own mind set to the organization and this leads to conflicts between generations. According to baby boomers younger generation dont work. Baby boomers are workaholic, generation X works only as long as it is done. Generation Y likes getting new projects every day. They like challenges. This creates a conflict between generations as they work in same office. This results in low productivity and motivation of employees. Motivation: Baby boomers are motivated by money and recognition whereas generation X is motivated by getting autonomy in making decisions and Y is motivated by finding meaning in what they are doing and experiencing new things that could change their life. For generation Y, meaning full tasks and job is so important that they even leave there jobs to do something that they believe have some meaning. This is a challenge for organization as they have to design rewards and motivation system in such a way that it motivates all the employees. Stereotypes: Belonging to different pasts and having different values results in stereotyping. Baby boomers call generation X slackers as they dont work hard according to their subordinates. This sometimes result is a negative working environment where people with same believes start spreading negative thoughts about other group. Loyalty: It has been noted that it is easier for a young employee to leave the organization than a person who have been working there for more than three decades i.e. baby boomers. So it is becoming more and more challenging for organization to retain the generation X, Y employee as they are supposed to take place of baby boomers in next 1 decade. Work and Life:

3 For baby boomers work is everything whereas generation X and Y seek a balance in work and life, as they believe that family is as important as work. Generation Y for this reason focuses on flexible hours, which for baby boomers is very difficult to understand. A typical baby boomer would arrive at office sharp at 9 and will work as much as he could, whereas generation Y would want to work on time that suits them and time that doesnt affect their personal life. This becomes a challenge for organization in many ways. Firstly since baby boomers are their bosses and are in top level management so it becomes difficult for them to understand the concept of flexible work hour concept for them coming to office at 9 and leaving at 5 or after that is the work hours. Communication Gap: Communication gap arises because people of different generations are not willing to listen to each other. Also baby boomers believing that they are more experienced dont like to listen to generation X, Y whereas generation X, Y believing that baby boomers will not understand the new ideas doesnt tell them. Technology gap: Baby boomers are not technology literate whereas generation Y is grown in a time of rapid technology development, using computers, and mobiles is not at all an issue for them. They didnt have to learn it. This creates a clash between generations because baby boomer is not comfortable with soft copy and texting whereas generation Y totally rely on it. Also baby boomers dont want to learn new technology and this makes it a little more difficult for organization. Attitude towards authority Figure: Generation X and Y believe that respect is earned. Baby boomers on the other hand believe in chain of command for them the decision of the boss is the ultimate decision, they respect authority. For baby boomers asking questions from authority or being open to them is considered disrespectful, whereas generation X, Y are dont like it if their ideas and thoughts are rejected just because authority figure says it cant happen. Even when generation X, Y is in authority positions they dont force decisions on their employees. Respect: Respect has different meaning for these generations. A baby boomer feels respected if his decisions are obeyed, nobody questions him. Generation X, Y want their opinions

4 to be listened atleast if not implemented. They respect the person not the title he or she holds. They respect everyone. They give same respect to their employees, lower staff etc. Baby boomers do not appreciate this, for them respect is given on the basis of persons authority and title. Feedback: Baby boomer likes to be appreciated by feedback but he/ she doesnt like continuous feedback, it hinders their performance. On the other hand generation X, Y wants to be appreciated continuously. They want immediate feedback on their performance. This becomes a challenge when generation X, Y expects to get feedback and baby boomers dont give it or when younger employees go to baby boomers and ask for feedback. Organization structure: As the organization structure of most organizations in changing from vertical to flat or horizontal structure it is becoming more difficult for older employees to adapt to it. They are used to chain of command and the fact that new generation feels confident in-front of their bosses is new to them.

How to deal with differences

The nature of work today requires group work and working together in departments. In the past few decades not only new industries has emerged but the importance of workforce has also increased. Companies can afford to dissatisfy any employee as human resources is the most important asset of the company. Accept the difference All employees should understand the fact that they have to work in the same organization and to make the organization successful they will have to work together. So they should accept the differences. Communication Effective communication is must to stop spreading negative word of mouth about a particular generation. Company should arrange events or design projects in a way that requires maximum interaction of all the generations and thus can help them in understanding each other. Goals, mission and objectives

5 When making new policy, goals or objective of the organization all the members should be involved in it. This will actually help the three generations to understand each others problems and idea. Understand the difference: Make the people from different generation understand each other. Since the reason for conflicts is difference in values and attitudes, if the employees will understand these differences it will be easier to remove conflicts.


Kunreuther, F. (2003). The Changing of the Guard:What Generational Differences Tell Us About Social-Change Organizations. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly. 32(3) , 450457. Notter, J. (2007). Generational Diversity in the Workplace. Journal of Association Leadership , 1-9. Sun, C. (2011, January 18). 10 things. Retrieved 3 28, 2011, from Tech Republic: Tolbize, A. (2008). Generational differences in the work place. Research and Training Center on Community Living , 1-21.

ii Appendix Table (I) Adapted from various sources

Baby Boomers 1946-1964 mid and late part of career want to make a difference respect authority believe they can change the world believe in hardwork and sacrifice workaholics like working in teams and groups extremely loyal want recognition and are motivated by it goal oriented need job security follow chain of cammand motivator: money face to face communication

Generation X 1965-1980 are not impresse by title and can question authority children of older boomer earned less than their parents because of downsizing Slackers/ work only what is needed highly competitive environment accoustmed to instant feedback work life balance independent want autonomy in deciosion making not overly loyal value learning less motivated by money Less loyal to organization but loyal to colleagues Work life balance. Since both parents used to work They want to be listened Want feedback think globally Autnonmy, freedom to make decisions direct or phone

Generation Y 1981-2001 respect only those who earn it optimistic fun loving confident comfortable with latest and new technology except diversity and differences adapt to change can work in team independant multi tasker email and text