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The Generational Collide

“I can’t believe it. I’m in the office on the weekend sending documents to Jennifer, a 26 year-old, so she can work from home. I’m 55 and I’ve paid my dues. Why am I doing this?”

I was at a fund-raising event, talking to Dan and somehow this came up. It took me aback a little, because Dan is always so calm and courteous; I think it actually surprised him too, but he was obviously very frustrated.

Scenarios like this happen every day in the work place. And people of all ages are finding it very frustrating. But what is being done about it? Generally, when there are differences in perspective, there is potential for conflict. Many find it hard to confront the conflict, so it continues. Then resentment builds.

Frustration and resentment are obstacles to accomplishing a common goal. Without tools and solutions to help these individuals better understand and relate to each other, those points of tension could eventually escalate into a collision of competing priorities that has the potential to derail projects, stall progress and create a generational divide in company culture.

Teams and organizations benefit from the different perspectives; so how do we find a solution to help these different generations better communicate and leverage each other’s strengths to drive positive outcomes?

NOTE: It is very important to understand that when we talk about a specific generation, we are talking about a group of people. We cannot attribute general characteristics about a generation onto one individual. A specific individual may not demonstrate the group tendency at all. People are complex and behave the way that they do based on personality, values, skills, intelligence and much more. Generational influence is only one factor in how one behaves. When we talk about general characteristics of a generation, it is the tendencies of the majority, but certainly not every person.

The Steps to a Solution

When we look at generational differences, there are several areas to consider. We look at influence from:

  • The national and international events influencing the “coming of age years”
  • Family structure and routines
  • Work ethic
Baby Boomer Characteristics
  • Competitive
  • Strong work ethic
  • Sacrifice personal life for career
  • Loyal to the company
  • Reward equals money, title, and corner office
Generation X Characteristics
  • Loyal to people, not the company
  • No more lifetime employment
  • Keep their resume up to date
  • Reward equals freedom & autonomy
  • Technology learned in adulthood
Millennial Characteristics
  • Desire meaningful work
  • Questions the “Why” of a directive
  • Seek accelerated recognition and promotion
  • Want to be known as an individual
  • Technology savvy
Generation Z Characteristics
  • Pragmatic and independent
  • Money and job security are of utmost importance
  • May explore multiple career paths
  • Seek honesty and transparency
  • Accustomed to technology interwoven in all aspects of life




Awareness is the first step in changing any situation. Understanding the different generations in how they grew up, their influences, and their characteristics helps us to better understand ourselves and others and helps us to strategize and leverage the strengths of people from each generation. Awareness can help reduce the tension, allows everyone to take a deep breath, and provides the pause before moving toward action and resolution.

Appreciation is the next step in resolving tension and conflict. In our scenario, with some understanding and communication between Dan and Jennifer, they can come to an agreement on how to get the job done while respecting each other’s needs.

The next step is to communicate with each other and identify specific strategies for how the different generations can communicate and work together for the benefit of the organization.

While it’s easy to relate to people that are “like us”, to be successful, teams need to be comprised of individuals in multiple generations so that they’re able to leverage their respective strengths to drive progress and success.

Strategies for Successful Working Relationships*:
Acknowledge there is not one right answer. There are many “right” ways to accomplish a goal.

Acknowledge that you are interdependent. Solutions leverage the strengths of all generations.

Appreciate the things you have in common with those from other generations. We are all human beings with feelings, motivations, and values that transcend generations.

Assume responsibility for building productive and respectful relationships across generations.

Approach people the way they would like to be approached (“The Platinum Rule”).

*From Generations Working Together by Laura E Bernstein

Explore how your team can learn about and appreciate each generation and develop strategies and actions to capitalize on those strengths daily. Contact Narrative to partner with you in learning, appreciating and taking action.