Resolving The Clash Between Younger and Older Workers
Bill Cottringer

“Conflict is inevitable, but combat is optional.” ~Max Lucade.

Because of today’s economic uncertainty, earlier entry into occupations and delayed retirements, there is a growing gap and conflict emerging in the workplace between younger and older employees. The conflicts between youthful energy, quickness, fluid values, simple solutions and self-interest, and older wisdom, understanding of complexities, conservative values, resistance to change and tempered egos, can disrupt any manager’s progress in building workplace teams to get results.

The challenge for managers of today’s bimodal organizations is to seek creative resolutions to these inevitable conflicts, in order to get to the other side were maximum productivity and results are always waiting. We know from experience that denying or avoiding these conflicts just prolongs and worsens them. Below are a few tips to facilitate this needed process to minimize the down-time from these sorts of disruptive conflicts.

But first, let’s pause and take the temperature of typical workplaces today to get a better sense of the emotional depth of the problem. Here are common, recently collected comments from both sides of the fence:

From the Older Worker’s Perspective:

• “I feel like I am being pushed out to pasture and compartmentalized to reduce the real value I have to offer the company, but I am not ready to be counted out”
• “Why do we keep trying these same things over and over again that have never worked in the past?”
• “Things are really more complicated that we want them to be and it takes time to get the right results without making too many mistakes or getting undesirable side effects.”
• “I deserve respect and acknowledgment for what I know and all the successes I have accomplished, but I am not getting it.”

From the Younger Worker’s’ Perspective:

• “I know I have great ideas to offer, so why am I in a catch-22 where ZI either have to be quiet and just pay my dues, or speak up and get ignored?”
• “I am very fast in getting results, isn’t that what counts most?”
• “So what if it has been tried before and failed, the situation may be different this time around, and besides you had your shot earlier, so why don’t I get my chance?”
• “I think everybody views me as a silly kid who doesn’t know anything or have any useful experience, but I know better.”

Here are the three realities that have to be considered and absorbed by younger and older workers and the managers who are trying to resolve the inevitable conflicts between such employees:

1. You Can Only See Half The Truth With One Set Of Eyes.

Our journey to find “the whole truth and nothing but the truth” is a road under perpetual learning, growing and improving. Just about the time we think we have grasped the whole truth of something, the possibility of the opposite pops into our awareness. This reality is a hard one for our ego’s to accept—having to adopt tentativeness about something we think we know for sure, instead of being able to feel more comfortable by making it a certainty. But, just like the wage line on the social security tax formula that keeps getting moved ahead, truth keeps expanding wider than our current understanding.
The application of this reality to resolve our conflicts with younger and older employees in the workplace is simple: We need both the energy, quickness, simple solutions and personal values of youthful workers and the slow but steady wisdom, complicated answers and varied experiences of the older workers. But keep in mind once this conflict is resolved, there will surely be another one to come along as this current young vs. old worker conflict followed the diversity one earlier.

2. The Creative Process Is Natural.

As Plato said, “Justice is just a way to repair injustice.” The purpose of any conflict in work, life or a relationship is to offer the experience of going through the creative process that is occurring naturally all around us. We explore one side of the equation first and then the other side, so we can get to the middle ground, which actually turns out to be past both sides of the particular equation we are exploring. Where we end up is the “Land of Good and Plenty” which is always on the other side of the conflict.
Take the creative power of “The Secret” as an example. We find out what we want to attract and then what we are doing to attract just the opposite, so we can eventually attract only our real desires. One way of interpreting this, is to see it as very self-centered and egotistical; but another way is to see everything we think or do as both self-centered and other-directed, or selfish and selfless. It depends upon where we are in the creative process of the particular equation we are working on.

3. The Fun Part Is Supposed To Be The Journey.

We have all been brainwashed into getting caught up in an instantaneous world were speed is a highly prized value, despite the blurring it brings. What this does to our thinking is to over-emphasize the destination of our journey at the expense of not enjoying the journey along the way to that destination. We miss a lot of fun and enjoyment, by not stopping and smelling the roses before we pick them for a bouquet.

Resolving the inevitable conflicts that are bound to occur with any “us vs. them” group divisions, is a manager’s purpose which can be savored and perfected for opportunities of reapplication to new problems that aren’t ever solved or cured, just managed better.

Author's Bio: 

William Cottringer, Ph.D. is Executive Vice-President for Employee Relations for Puget Sound Security, Inc. in Bellevue, WA, along with his hobbies in being a Sport Psychologist, Business Success Coach, Photographer and Writer living in the peaceful but invigorating mountains and rivers of North Bend. He is author of several business and self-development books, including, “You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too” (Executive Excellence), “The Bow-Wow Secrets” (Wisdom Tree), “Do What Matters Most” and “P” Point Management” (Atlantic Book Publishers), “Reality Repair” (Global Vision Press), Reality Repair Rx (Authorsden), and “If Pictures Could Talk,” coming soon. Bill can be reached for comments or questions at (425) 454-5011 or