Today’s workforce contains members of four different generations, and the interactions of the various generations in the workplace lead to conflict caused by the formation of perceptions about each other. Intergenerational perceptions can lead to stereotypes, preconceptions, or tensions which yield conflicts and impact productivity and performance. Intergenerational conflict is between younger and older employees or a more abstract conflict between two generations, mostly involving prejudices against another generation. The intergeneration conflict entails, in general, the cultural, social, and economic discrepancies between generations in the workplace. The generational differences in the workplace lead to three types of conflict value-based,
behaviour-based, and identity-based. Generational conflict sources arise from power and control, technology, generational differences, and organisational culture. The conflict resolutions discussed in the paper include mediation, dismantling stereotypes, uniting generations, proper communication, and focusing on each generation’s strengths. This literature review aims to examine conflict resolution in the workplace as it pertains to specific generations and the potential different strategies management must use to communicate effectively.
First, according to McKenzie (2015), mediation is vital in resolving workplace relationship conflict. Intergenerational conflict in the workplace results from the formation of stereotypes and judgments among different generations, especially millennials and Generation X. In an ideal workplace, generation X is the manager and people holding the position of power. At the same time, the front line is millennials, who have different work ethics and approaches to life compared to Generation X (Xiong & Wang, 2018).
The source argues that mediation is the standard method of alternative dispute resolution in resolving workplace relationship conflict. Poor interpersonal relationships in the workplace are frequently identified as sources of stress which cause conflict (Messarra, 2014). A mediator will help unite millennials and Gen X by establishing a neutral ground, proper communication, and organizational culture that dismantles stereotypes and improves interpersonal relationships. In addition, Zhu et al. ( 2016) argue that mediation is useful since it helps the different generations in the workplace make their demands. Common ground is reached that enables all the generations to work together for a common goal. ADR is the standard form of mediation. It is applied in any organization since it is less expensive, can assist in repairing relationships, and allows greater control by disputants over the resolution period.
Moreover, work ethics and valuing the sources of motivation in workplace behaviour differ between millennials and older generations. According to Mahmoud et al. (2014 ), another source of generational conflict in the workplace is generational differences in valuing motivation and work ethics. Organizations are responsible for managing generational dissimilarities in the workplace and ensuring all the multigenerational and diverse employees communicate and collaborate to achieve overall organizational goals successfully. Mahmoud and Reisel (2014) also state that when employers can understand employees’ needs and attend to each generation’s perspective, the organization benefits and increases motivation, productivity, morale, and retention. The millennial generation is increasingly becoming the largest workforce and is described as technologically savvy, better educated, and ethnically diverse (Shelley André, 2018). On the other hand, generation X and baby boomers are in a position of power and tend to be traditional in their methods, which creates tension and rift with the millennials. Millennials are motivated by money and value engaging and challenging tasks, a robust employer brand, and a conducive working environment that allows them to be creative and innovative.
Another critical aspect is understanding and managing intergenerational conflict in the workplace. According to Urick et al. (2017), the generation gap and differences between generations are the sources of conflict, mainly the differences in values, behaviours, and identity in achievement, image, and ego. The millennials perceive the older generation as outdated regarding technology and trends. In contrast, the old perceive the millennials as irrational and lacking the moral values and patience needed in the workplace (Winter & Jackson, 2016). The stereotypes and perceptions are sources of intergenerational conflict, and the management needs to develop strategies that dismantle them and make communication across all generations smooth and effective. Zizek and Cic (2017) argue that the different generation in the workplace differs in behaviour patterns, attitudes, expectations, habits and motivation mechanism, and the generation gap helps in the business process but require the balance of the needs of all generations to ensure productivity and efficiency is not affected by the conflict that arises. Superior-subordinate conflict is another interpersonal conflict in the workplace that arises from the difference in attitudes, power, and behaviours between the two groups (Cucina et al., 2018). The millennials dislike being commanded and yelled at the workplace, which may create tensions in the workplace, leading to absenteeism, lack of job satisfaction, motivation, and productivity.
Discuss and Evaluation
Workplace mediation is a method that is effective both in small and big workplace conflicts since ADR helps in mending relationships between generations in the workplace and improves interpersonal relationships. The modern workforce is diverse and includes four generations, including baby boomers, generation x and millennials, that differ in behaviour patterns, motivation mechanisms, work ethics and values, and satisfaction levels. In the case of superior-subordinate conflict, mediation can help restore trust between the two groups and ensure both sides benefit from improved productivity, motivation, and job satisfaction. The Multidimensional Work Motivational Scale (MWMS) measures the work motivation dimension among different generations in the workplace, which is the primary source of intergenerational conflict (Cucina et al., 2018). The different types of motivation include extrinsic, intrinsic, ad motivation. Workplace conflict resolution regarding a specific generation in the workplace requires the managers and organization to identify what motivates each group.
Today, millennials require a combination of various elements in the workplace to achieve job satisfaction and motivation. Identifying and motivating each generation will help resolve the conflict caused by generational differences in motivational mechanisms. In addition, the procedure used by Winter & Jackson ( 2016) shows that organization needs to explore issues facing young professionals by conducting an open-ended survey on their challenges and how to solve them. In the workplace, conflict resolution starts with building an organizational culture that promotes equality and fairness without stereotyping or discrimination in any group. Poor interpersonal communication in the workplace and lack of common ground makes it difficult for the various generations to see eye to eye, and the organization ends up suffering from reduced production, low morale, and lack of motivation.
The biggest challenge young professionals face today is the generational difference in organizations where older generations are in power positions while younger generations are on the frontline. The differences in work ethics, procedures, and perception of things cause conflict. The older generation values face time and working certain hours, while the millennials have grown up learning how to work smarter, not harder (Cucina et al., 2018).
Finding the balance between these conflicting differences will help resolve the issues and enable the different generations to work together to achieve a common goal. In the article by Xiong and Wang (2018), the author’s methodology and research design are based on measuring employees’ subjective evaluation bias regarding labour relations and using Chinese participants.
In the workplace, the bias between employees of two generations leads to conflicts in labour relations, and the company needs to apply conflict management strategies. The article gives an international perception of conflict resolution about two specific generations in the workplace. Generational differences are the common theme in all articles and the primary source of conflict in the modern workforce. The formation of bias, stereotypes, and prejudices by different generations in the workplace makes it hard for various groups to work together since they negatively perceive the other generation’s method of operation, rationale, and decision-making (Winter & Jackson, 2016). From the management perspective, integrative cooperation at the workplace should be based on the needs of all generations and trying to find a balance that will unite them. Although generational gaps are important for the business process, it is disadvantageous when it causes conflict that lowers employees’ productivity and causes tensions.
According to Andre (2018), embracing generational diversity is important, and managers have the role of reducing and managing workplace conflict that results from generational differences. In nursing, intergenerational differences can lead to conflict and disagreements, especially when the old nurses subject the new nurses to pre-existing tendencies of trial-by-fire methods. The solution to intergenerational workplace conflict is properly assessing the generational factor causing the conflict. The Baby Boomers do not like to be micromanaged, while the millennials are used to detailed instructions and hovering over authorities (Cucina et al., 2018). Understanding what is causing the generational conflict is the first step in solving and addressing the issue. Second, focusing on each generation’s strengths in the workplace and assigning the right work to the right generation. Managers need education and training to develop generation-specific strategies such as knowing their employees. A baby boomer manager should know the needs of the millennials and understand the new developments in methods of doing work and the use of technology (McKenzie, 2015). On the other hand, a Gen X manager should take time to develop a trusting relationship with older generations to avoid alienating them and causing friction in the workplace.
In conclusion, conflict resolution in the workplace as it pertains to generation requires the assessment of generational differences and the sources of conflict. Today, the diversity and presence of many generations in the workplace cause a conflict caused by differences in work ethics, motivation mechanisms, values, perception and attitudes. The formation of stereotypes, biases and prejudices against each generation is another cause of conflict, making interpersonal communication hard and affecting productivity, morale and job satisfaction.
All the sources used in the paper have information regarding intergeneration conflict and strategies to resolve the issue. The main resolutions recommended in the paper are finding a balance between the needs of each generation, assigning jobs based on generational strength, dismantling stereotypes and stabling good interpersonal communication and organization culture that values all generations.
Čič, Ž. V., & Žižek, S. Š. (2017). Intergenerational cooperation at the workplace from the management perspective. Naše gospodarstvo/Our economy, 63(3), 47-59.
Cucina, J. M., Byle, K. A., Martin, N. R., Peyton, S. T., & Gast, I. F. (2018). Generational differences in workplace attitudes and job satisfaction. Journal of Managerial Psychology.
Mahmoud, A. B., Reisel, W. D., Grigoriou, N., Fuxman, L., & Mohr, I. (2020). The reincarnation of work motivation: Millennials vs older generations. International Sociology, 0268580920912970.
McKenzie, D. M. (2015). The role of mediation in resolving workplace relationship conflict. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 39, 52-59.
Messarra, L. C. (2014). Conflict resolution styles and personality: The moderating effect of generation X and Y in a non-Western context Leila Canaan Messarra, Silva Karkoulian, Abdul-Nasser El-Kassar. International journal of productivity and performance management, 65(6), 792-810.
Shelley André, R. N. (2018). Embracing generational diversity: Reducing and managing workplace conflict. ORNAC Journal, 36(4), 13.
Urick, M. J., Hollensbe, E. C., Masterson, S. S., & Lyons, S. T. (2017). Understanding and managing intergenerational conflict: An examination of influences and strategies. Work, Aging and Retirement, 3(2), 166-185.
Winter, R. P., & Jackson, B. A. (2016). Work values preferences of Generation Y: performance relationship insights in the Australian Public Service. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 27(17), 1997-2015.
Xiong, W., & Wang, T. (2018). Labour relations and new generation employees. International Journal of Conflict Management.
Zhu, Y., Yang, H., & Bai, G. (2016). Effect of superior–subordinate intergenerational conflict on job performance of new generation employees. Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, 44(9), 1499-1513.
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Have you observed or personally experienced generational conflict?
What arguments or accusations have you heard, and in what situations do you think these conflicts usually arise? Who, if anyone, do you think might profit from generational conflict and the sense that one’s own generation is under attack? Consider differences in social, religious, or political beliefs, or consider different responses to major events such as a pandemic.
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