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Solving Multi-Generational Workforce Conflicts

There has been a lot written about the multi-generational work force, and most of it has been directed toward the differences in the values and the behaviors that each generation exhibits. Highlighting the conflict between them, how they don't get along, and that "we just have to live with it". Of course this is coming from the point of view of an ageing Baby Boomer.

I reject that premise and suggest that we have always had values and behavior conflict in the workplace. We've just lived with it for so long it seems natural. Most studies report that a majority of employees would change jobs if they could find a better one. The new generation is asking "Why" it has to be this way, while the established "Baby Boomers" are threatened by the question. In this environment communications breaks down and conflicts arise, consequently productivity goes down.

"Seek to understand before seeking to be understood", Augustine, 4th Century

This quote holds the key to communication and harmony between workers, which will go a long way to resolving conflict between them.

There are four generations currently in the workforce:
Traditionalists (Veterans); born before 1945, make up 8 percent of workforce
Baby Boomers; born between 1946 and 1964, make up 39.9 percent of workforce
Generation X; born between 1965 and 1979, make up 35.7 percent of workforce
Generation Y; born between 1980 and 1999, make up 15.9 percent of the workforce
Each of these generations has different values and behaviors around work.

"Generational conflict arises from different expectations of work" -Diversity Executive Magazine, 2009

The good news is there are tools that can help identify individual values and behavioral styles at work.

The first step in understanding others is to understand ourselves. We must first know who we are and what our work style is before "seeking to understand others" styles.

"He who knows others is learned, he who knows himself is wise" -Lao Tse

These tools come in the form of on-line assessments. The "Behavioral and Communications" style assessment, which is based on the DISC model. The values assessment is the "Personal Interests, Attitudes, and Values" report.

This DISC model has been researched and used successfully in the business environment for the past couple of decades. It measures how you respond to problems and challenges, how you influence others, how you respond to the pace of the environment, and how you respond to rules set by others.

The values assessment is based on six basic interests or attitudes (a way of valuing life):

Theoretical: Primary drive is to "Discover the Truth"
Utilitarian: Primary interest in money and what's useful, ROI
Aesthetic: Form and Harmony
Social: Inherent love of people
Individualistic: Seeks person power, not necessarily political
Traditional: seeks unity, order, or tradition

We all have these characteristics but some are more prominent than others. Each of us as an individual is defined by what motivates us (why we do things) and our behavioral and communications style (how we do things).

By using these business tools to assess ourselves and the other members on our teams, we are able to better understand each other, and the underlying motives and communications styles of our coworkers.

This will go a long way to improving communication between generations and reliving conflict between them and consequently increase productivity and harmony within your business.


Edi Osborne, CEO of Mentor Plus, has been a leader in training and consulting to the accounting profession for nearly 20 years. Recently named as one of the TOP 25 Thought Leaders in Public Accounting, Ms. Osborne is dedicated to helping firms make the transition from a "service centric" traditional accounting focus to a "client centric" advisory services culture. For more info go to:

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