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Generation Gap Causes Conflict in Some Workplaces, SHRM Poll Shows

Coaching of managers most common response to addressing intergenerational clashes


According to a recent survey by the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), conflict between members of different generations exists in almost three-quarters of organizations, and more than half of organizations actively work to reduce that conflict. SHRM released the results of its “Intergenerational Conflict in the Workplace” poll as the May edition of the Society’s HR Magazine published a cover story about the multigenerational workforce.

Five generations will be represented in the U.S. workforce next year, the article noted. This is significant because “Multigenerational discord can impede workplace relationships and lower engagement.” When asked the extent of intergenerational conflict in the workplace, 44% of respondents said it existed “to a slight degree” in their organizations, 25% said “to some degree” and 3% said “to a large degree.”

At the same time, however, about one-quarter of the more than 400 randomly selected SHRM members said intergenerational conflict doesn’t exist at all in their workplaces. Organizations with fewer than 500 employees were more likely than larger organizations to report that it was not an issue.


What concerns do people managers raise about the performance of younger workers? Inappropriate dress topped the list, followed closely by poor work ethic. Informality, the need for supervision and lack of respect for authority were mentioned by more than one-third of respondents.


What complaints do younger workers raise about older managers? Resistance to change was mentioned by 47% of respondents, followed closely by a lack of recognition and the tendency to micromanage. Technology was mentioned across generations but for different reasons. Asked what concerns have been raised about younger workers, 38% said “inappropriate use of or excessive reliance on technology.” Asked what concerns younger workers have about older managers, 31% replied “aversion to technology.”


As for how generations view work and life, HR Magazine reported that Millennials (those born between 1981 and 1995) see effective and flexible workplaces as a necessity for long-term productivity and engagement. Lack of respect for workers’ work/life balance was mentioned as a complaint about older managers by 31% of respondents.


Fifty-six percent of respondents reported that their organizations actively work to address intergenerational conflict. The most common tool was coaching and mentoring for managers, mentioned by 61% of respondents. Forty-four percent said they implemented or increased coaching for non-managers, and 38% said they increased training on job expectations for new hires.