Is intergenerational conflict hurting business productivity?

There are many different factors which affect business productivity – everything from an unsuitable office layout, to poor staff morale or a lack of workflow automation can affect the quantity and quality of work that employees are doing every day.

However, one issue which may have a greater impact on office productivity than you may realise is the various age of employees, and the various generational differences that are present in the workplace.

According to a new study from the American Society for Training & Development, nearly 90 per cent of workers today believe unaddressed intergenerational conflict is having an effect on the productivity of their workplace.

Following a survey of 1,350 subjects, the researchers found that the two generations most likely to clash in the workplace are Baby Boomers aged between 49 and 67, and Millenials aged between 13 and 33.

These two groups have a tendency to view members of the other demographic in a bad light, due to what study authors Joseph Grenny and David Maxfield have dubbed a "classic case of the fundamental attribution error".

Essentially, this means that much of the perceived conflict is being created due to a tendency to attribute negative behaviour to unfair stereotypes. For example, Baby Boomer workers are likely to view Millenials as having a lack of discipline, while Millenials may see Baby Boomers as being overly resistant to change.

"When we commit the fundamental attribution error, we feel justified in not confronting issues because we see our colleagues as 'too old' or 'too young' to solve problems or create a productive working environment," explained Mr Grenny.

It's important to note, however, that many experts believe there are numerous benefits to having an intergenerational workplace. James Bowmer, managing director of American temporary staffing agency Kelly Services, is one such individual.

In 2009, to accompany the release of a report entitled the Kelly Global Workforce Index, Mr Bowmer issued a statement noting the differences between age groups, when harnessed effectively, can provide "a powerful stimulus to creativity and productivity".

"Rather than trying to smother this diversity, good employers are utilising it to generate fresh ideas and new ways of doing business," said Mr Bowmer.

This research is food for thought for businesses looking to uncover new and creative productivity solutions, as it suggests the importance of addressing the intergenerational differences of a workplace in order to harness those differences to full affect.

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