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Generational Challenges in the Workplace

If you perceive tensions developing in your workplace between younger managers and older workers, you're not alone. According to a special report by the Journal of Intergenerational Relationships recently profiled by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), a generational gap in workplaces across the country is leading to increased friction and conflicts between multiple generations of American managers and workers over communication and leadership styles.

Researchers at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio surveyed two groups of workers - managers under the age of 36 and subordinates who were two decades their seniors. The researchers found that these groups were forming due to many older workers disregarding retirement and younger skilled workers being more quickly promoted to positions of authority, leading to a relatively new workplace dynamic. The researchers discovered that many older workers were upset with the management style of their younger colleagues, and that many of the younger managers were unaware of these issues. One prominent factor cited was a difference in how relationships between managers and employees were developed and maintained - older workers desire deeper, more personal workplace relationships that emphasize their individuality and encourage long conversations and face-to-face contact, while younger managers are comfortable with more casual, impersonal relationships that revolve around email and other forms of electronic communication.

Other experts cited by SHRM were quick to note that other factors, including the personalities and experience of workers separated by age, can also play a significant factor in workplace conflicts. Older workers may value "quality over quantity" and resent being frequently assigned new projects or responsibilities or being held to a high standard of productivity, while younger managers may be intimidated by the prospect of reprimanding or disciplining workers as old as their parents or even grandparents.

In order to resolve this "disconnect", the researchers cited the need for "a new stream of leadership and team research focusing on the evolution of leadership, specifically as younger leaders supervising much older direct reports becomes the norm in our work environment."

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