With four generations actively involved in our organizations, there is tension and divide in the different values, perspectives, and expectations of Baby Boomers, X’ers, Millennials, and Gen Z.  These differences become easier to latch onto than the similarities of workplace culture, technical skills, and goals of the team, group, and organization.

There are patterns that emerge in places where there are groups. They are enhanced in teams that have pre-established projects and deliverables and then accentuated again when there is competition inside the team, like practice areas in firms where compensation is individual and business generation is expected to be in group.

Patterns that emerge:

  • Group dynamics. In groups and Out groups have existed since we have traced humans. We have a tendency to form strong relationships with those who align with us. These alignments form cliques, otherwise known as “cool kids”, and we all want to be that, leaving a gap between these groups. This shows up in how we judge other groups on a particular thing – musical interest, technological ability, to name two.
  • Change. Our first response to change is denial, and then resistance. We think our way is the best way, despite how and when it originated. Generational differences in how knowledge is procured, work is done, and relationships are fostered hamper workplace collegiality and success.
  • Communication. Misunderstandings and miscommunication exacerbate existing tension. Extending grace and assumption of positive intent are difficult when fear and in-group attributes are strong. Simply put, we are so attached to being right that we will forego clear communication and diplomatic dialogue without very skilled facilitators.

The long-term consequences of conflict are staggering. Unresolved and unaddressed conflict cost talent, productivity, and culture. When we overlay the different generations into that cost, we also experience stronger group dynamics and difficulty bridging knowledge for legacy of organizations.

We have a path forward, we have opportunities to build workplaces, and a world, that is dynamic and inclusive. Some basic skills that would start us on the path:

  • Empathy.  Listening to understand the position of the other side is crucial. Listening to relate to the human that is different than you goes a long way in elevating empathy. Communication becomes less absolute, hurt isn’t the dominate language, and resolution is more available. In organizations, this means bringing forward leadership development through opportunities like Mentor-rings, where cross-generations come together to learn from each other in facilitated small-group settings.
  • Conflict skills. In these wars we rely on expert mediators and trained professionals to bring the two sides together to discuss a path forward. In organizations we most often land conflict at the feet of the Human Resource team, even when the conflict isn’t theirs. Increasing the organization-wide conflict skill level, at least among the titled leaders, will elevate the organization’s productivity, feedforward practices, and technical skills.
  • Resilience. We comment on how Gen Z is willing to change employers for a better experience, not expecting to be career-length employees. Changing jobs is easier than building resilience, although wherever you go, there you are. If organizations would consider how to build resilience of their people, how they create the social, political, and value-centric connections among their employees, they will reap the benefits of longer-tenured people.
  • Adaptability. A by-product of more resilience is the ability to find common ground. This will involve change, empathy, and communication to build commitment and diplomacy. It’s sophisticated and eases the path to resolving differences and fosters cooperation. At this moment it remains to be seen how adaptable the warring nations are willing to be. The question here is how adaptable are your firm, and your people?

We are living in extraordinary times. With a continuing exodus of our senior workforce only able to be replaced by our youngest workforce (simply a matter of numbers, there are not enough X’ers to replace the large number of Boomers), you have to commit to a more unifying, inclusive workplace to cultivate the talent for the legacy of your business.