Tensions within organizations: View from intergenerational relationships

Diversity is a reality that is becoming more and more important in modern businesses. One of the factors contributing to this diversity is the age gap between generations. It is hard for the different generations to work with each others, since each of them has its own work-attitudes and characteristics, which may result in various intergenerational conflicts. These conflicts can occur within organizations and have a negative impact on individual performances, and therefore, on the global performance of the company.

It is important to understand each of the generations operating in the workplace, and the consequences of their interactions. Our research tasks are first, to identify the organizational conflicts between employees, then to briefly expose the different characteristics of the generations X and Y, and finally to elucidate the nature of the relationship between these two generations within the company.

Within companies, different types of conflicts can occur. We have differentiated first between cognitive conflicts (work-related conflicts) that are supposed to be positive for companies, since they promote innovation, and relational conflicts (when feelings are involved) that have a negative impact on individual and global performance. Then, we differentiated between conflicts according to people involved, which are intra-personal, interpersonal, inter-group, intra-group, and intra-organizational conflicts.

After that, we tried to understand different characteristics of generations, especially generation Y (Millenials) and generation X. Gen-X, those born between 1968 and 1979 according to the US Census Bureau, are known to be independents, pessimistic, faithful to their careers and employers, looking for a work-life balance, evolve slowly and require to be a part of decision making. While the Millenials, born between 1980 and 1995, are known to be optimistic, connected, multitask, innovative, evolve quickly, demand constant feedback and prefer working in a group. These differences between the two generations can make their relationship conflictual and therefore, impact negatively the company and the work climate.

We have conducted an exploratory case study by inducting semi-structured interviews with employees of a Moroccan company, belonging to both gen X and gen Y. Our purpose is to understand the nature of conflicts as well as their consequences on daily work, especially the conflicts occurring between members of different generations.

We analyzed our interviewees’ answers and concluded that the relationship between members of different generations can lead to different types of conflicts, conflicts that can be related to work, or relationship conflicts. Also, they can be interpersonal as well as intergroup, which can have either a positive or a negative effect on the organizations and the work climate.

However, the conflict between two individuals from different generations can lead to a clash between generations within company, which have a dangerous effect on the work climate. These effect can manifest as an increase of absenteeism and turnovers, especially regarding Gen-Y, as a decrease of individual performances due to the relationship conflicts, and therefore, as a lack of support, teamwork and knowledge transfer between generations; which can be harmful the company’s performance.

By Taha Ahl-Maatallah, University Researcher

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