This is the third in a series of four blogs that provide insight into the multi-generational workforce. If you haven't already read the first two installments, please see Leadership in the Multi-Generational Workplace and Cross-Generational Mentoring.

Generational Conflict in the WorkplaceIf you're the typical creative services leader, you're over 50 years old and have more than 25 years of experience under your belt. You know your company, the creative services industry and how to manage the right-brained employee. With three diverse generations now in the workplace, obstacles involving respect, communication and work styles are cropping up faster than some leaders can handle them. If you're prepared, you can foster a respectful, collaborative work environment among these employees. If you want to be an effective leader you must encourage others to learn from the diversity of each generation. This means that with each generation there is a possibility that conflict may erupt.

In this post I've outlined some guidelines that may mitigate or prevent negative conflict from happening.

  • Identify the Generations: Each generation is different and should be defined differently by their values and their perception of work. To recap, Baby Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964. Generation-X was born between 1964 and 1980. Millennials were born between 1980 and 2000. Conflicts between generations usually involve differences in core values and life experiences. This can be mitigated somewhat by understanding the values and experiences unique to each generation.
  • Employ the Talents and Strengths of Each Generation: This is an important aspect of resolving negative conflict at the organizational level. Each generation has great strengths and talents that define them. As a leader you must recognize and emphasize with each generation and acknowledge the contributions they bring to the workforce. Once you show each generation that there is value in their contributions the easier it will be for the different generations to accept each other. This allows a dialogue to be established and each group's viewpoints about the other to come to light. This learning leads to better understanding across the generations.
  • Adopt a Management Style that Enables Each Generation:Leaders must employ different management styles to complement each generation and be on the lookout for negative conflict. Biases also tend to be a factor here. For example you may be a Baby Boomer manager in charge of a group of Millennials; you "live to work" and you are defined by that work. Millennials get bored easy and "live for the moment." This is where you have to adapt your management style and allow compromise and collaboration to take hold. A flexible management style demonstrates to each generation that you are aware, objective and willing to adapt to each unique situation and to the different people involved. Instead of dealing with each generation, it becomes more about dealing with the problem and less about the people.
  • Acknowledge What You Cannot Change: You have to admit to yourself that you cannot change everybody and you need to be aware of what motivates each generation. In one instance a Boomer may want a bonus whereas a Gen-X'er may want time off for a good job. You have to find the motivational factor that will bring about a sense of cohesion within the team.
  • Focus on Merits and Strengths of Each Generation: While each generation has its merits and strengths, their weaknesses and stereotypes can cause contention and disrespect. Younger workers may not appreciate or understand the intense work lives of Baby Boomers; Gen Xers might chafe under the hierarchical direction of their elder generations. Each generation also has a different view of (and approach to) communication. While you may not subscribe to the text-messaging habits of Millennials, it's important to learn to appreciate every generation's modes of communication to better manage an age-diverse staff.

  • A high percentage of workplace conflicts arise from differences in generational values. When management and employees understand that, it's much easier to have the combative parties sit down and discuss their differences, because the conflict is no longer 'you against me,' it's 'my generation's values against your generation's values'.

    Let's not forget, some younger employees may enter your organization with a biased view of older generations, including their managers. They also need to be guided to make accommodations and accept alternative ways of doing things. When they see your flexible, multi-generational style of management, their perceptions of your generation should change in a positive way.

    Tip: Accommodating different work styles is also important because differences between working generations are revealed in the workplace. While Boomers will likely prefer traditional office space, Gen Xers and Millennials aren't limited by walls, as witnessed by the increasingly popularity of telecommuting and open-plan workspaces. Today workers can work anywhere. While it might not make sense for a creative services team member to telecommute every day, some aspects of the job might be just as easily done at home.

    Move Beyond Bias
    Today's society has a lot of age bias. There are issues you may come across in managing a younger generation. First, you must examine your biases and assumptions, which most managers aren't going to admit they have. Getting to the heart of the differences can help identify why one worker reacts to another in a certain way, and moving beyond accepted stereotypes is the first step in eliminating harmful biases.
    Tip: Training a diverse, multi-generational workforce is no longer an option, it's now imperative ... and it's essential that leaders understand each generation's unique core values so they can manage and lead those generations effectively. Whether a large, full-day training session is best, or if several podcasts or downloaded sessions can be viewed individually as part of orientation, fitting generational diversity training into your work schedule can be done.

    Employ Some New Communication Methods
    Respecting employees for who they are includes respecting communication methods. With younger employees, keep communication short and sweet. They just want to know what they need to know, and don't necessarily want the history of something, which Boomers love to tell. Skip the context and keep it to the facts. The normalizing of immediate information sharing is evidenced by the communication among young workers.
    Tip: Text messaging, Twitter, instant messaging, and other types of social networking of instant communication are growing in popularity, and it could be time for you to jump on board. It's just-in-time information provides great ways to interact with coworkers while breaking down generational barriers. Using online and social media has the potential to erase age bias and stereotypes - in both directions!

    Unleash Knowledge Transfer
    As older employees phase out, knowledge and information loss are looming concerns. If the knowledge is to be passed on to the next generation, it has to be packaged in a way that makes sense for them. In today's workplace everything happens in teams and through collaboration, so fostering a work environment that promotes collaboration between old and young is the best place to start.
    Tip: Stress the importance of multi-generational employees thinking and working together. Unleash the collective creativity and collaboration that's going to bring innovation and productivity.

    Don't underestimate the power of the multi-generational workforce, use it to your advantage. Generational differences will always bring about confrontation unless the guidelines stated above are employed and used on a continuous basis. Using these guidelines will help draw on the strengths of each group and will help develop a stronger organization. In the end it is about a strong workplace with both young and old alike working together harmoniously and perusing the same goals.