Money & Career

Why your coworkers are fighting all the time: Age

Cranky Boomers, collaborative Millennials can make for a toxic mix at work.

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Does work make you stressed because your coworkers are arguing all the time? It could be their age according to Jim Finkelstein, author of Fuse: Making Sense of the Cogenerational Workplace. He says today’s mix of generations in the workplace is unprecedented – and that the chasm between boomer bosses (aged 45-60) and entry-level millennials (in their 20s) can make for a toxic workplace. And it’s hardly breeding leaders for the future. I interviewed Finkelstein about the workplace generation gap and how it can lead to conflict.

Q: Different generations have been working together forever – why is the generational gap such a problem today?

A: Years ago, everyone thought the baby boomers would retire and that millennials would inherit the earth. That’s not happening. Why? Because boomers are realizing they don’t have enough to retire on – their pensions aren’t enough. So they’re staying in the workforce longer. At the same time, people are living longer so they don’t like to retire so early. Boomers are either bored or running out of money – and as a result they’re going back into the workforce.

Q: How does conflict arise between boomers and millennials?

A: It comes from very different outlooks. Boomers tend to have a “my way or the highway” approach to managing as opposed to appreciative inquiry, saying “Here’s what I think – what are your thoughts?” That kind of approach isn’t familiar to boomers. Millennials on the other hand have been raised on teamwork and collaboration – it’s embedded in teaching and schools. They’re more cooperative with each other.

Q: Can the mix of generations with different approaches make for a toxic mix?

A: Yes, definitely, especially between boomers and millennials. Boomers tend to get parental with millennials and act like they’re trying to raise kids in the workplace. As soon as that happens, the millennials rebel. That can be extremely toxic.

Boomers are also tired because they realize they have to retire at 75 instead of 65. They’re worn out – and they get cranky. Let’s face it, it’s tough out there – the workplace is like the walking wounded right now. A lot of boomers don’t want to do it anymore. And millennials are looking at them and saying “I don’t want their job.”

This environment isn’t going to breed the leaders of tomorrow.

Q: What’s the solution?

A: I think the key is finding ways to fuse the unique and specific perspectives and abilities of each group – finding ways to leverage their strengths. Doing this can is a challenge but it can lead to innovation and better productivity.

Q: What about the role of women in the workplace? Is it changing with this mix of generations?

A: The glass ceiling is definitely not broken. We’re still perpetuating bad practices from the past. I am hopeful that the millennials will change that. When you see them interacting, different genders tend hang out with each other and there’s more collaboration between men and women. But right now, there’s still a problem for women in the workplace.  

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