Managing with Generations X and Y:
Communication, Conflict and Rewards
Chantal Westgate & Suzanne Gagnon
Desautels Faculty of Management
La fin d'une génération: les baby-boomers à la retraite
The End of a Generation: Baby Boomers into Retirement
In our private lives, generational
diversity plays an important role….
It typifies our families….
It structures our institutions …
We are used to living with
generational diversity.
Why, then, should it be a
problem for life in
Four propositions:
1. There are now FOUR generations in many
organizations : ‘war for talent’, plus people are
working longer…
2. The four have different life histories & to some
extent, different attitudes towards work, careers,
3. Seniority, hierarchy and inequality no longer
define the way we work in many cases
4. With group differences comes the potential for
conflict – judgmental attitudes, stereotyping, ‘ingroup/out-group’ behaviour
The Challenges and Promise of
Working with Gen X and Y
• The different generations
• Communication, Conflicts and Rewards
• How can you help build collaboration
across the generations?
Generational Differences
• How we view the world is shaped in part by
watershed events and conditions that each of us
experience during our formative years.
• Generation of origin is one aspect of diversity.
• Helps determine individual values, motivators
and needs, in much the same way as culture,
The Generations
1 - ‘Greatest’ or Silent Generation/Veterans
(born 1922-1945)
2 - Baby Boomers (born 1946-60’s)
3 - Generation X (born 1960’s-1980)
4 - Generation Y/Echo/Nexters (born 1980-2000)
Representation in the room?
Key common life events that distinguish each
‘Greatest Generation’: some key influences
The Great Depression
The New Deal
World War II
The Holocaust
Rural Electrification
Radio and the movies
Baby Boomers: some key influences
Economic Boom
Women’s Liberation
Rise in Civil Rights Activism
Quiet Revolution
Rock & Roll
Race to Space
Vietnam War
Gen X: some key influences
Demolition of the Berlin Wall
24-hour live remote news coverage
Dot-com economy
Hi-tech start-ups
Challenger disaster
economy in the
80s; recession
early 90s
Gen Y: some key influences
Internet – communications explosion
Iraq War
Columbine Shootings
September 11th
Corporate Scandals, e.g. Enron
Video Games
Instant messaging + + +
Global awareness
– Volume of information available
Each generation can be associated
with different values, assets,
liabilities and motivators for the
Greatest Generation
– Core Values: dedicated, disciplined, respectful of
authority, prefer hierarchy, sense of personal
– Assets: stable, loyal, detail-oriented, thorough, hard
– Liabilities: discomfort with conflict, coping with
ambiguity, reluctance to buck the system
– Motivators: being valued for their experience, wisdom,
– Leadership Style: more directive, command/control,
make the decisions and delegate
Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964)
– Core Values: optimism, teamwork, personal gratification,
growth, youth, hard work, involvement, prestige and status
– Assets: service oriented, willingness to go the extra-mile, desire
to please, team spirit, good working relationships
– Liabilities: conflict avoidance, process over goals, sensitivity to
feedback, judgmental, self-centered [The Me Generation]
– Motivators: being valued for their unique contributions; personal
achievement, wealth acquisition
- consensual, passionate, concerned
– Leadership Style: collegial,
about fairness but may also be directive or lack supervision skills
Gen Xers (born 1960-1980)
– Core Values: balance work and home, self-reliant, casual about
authority, pragmatic, egalitarian, global awareness
– Assets: adaptable, technological, independent, voracious learners,
financially savvy, not intimidated by authority, team players
– Liabilities: impatient, poor people skills, cynical, low expectations
about job security, less willing to make personal sacrifices at work
– Motivators: new technology and doing it by their own rules
– Leadership Style: less comfortable with traditional chain-ofcommand, bureaucracy, procedures
Gen Y ( (born 1980-2000…)
– Core Values: sense of civic duty, confidence, achievement,
optimism, sociability, street smarts, appreciation for diversity
– Assets: multi-tasking, tech savvy, optimistic, tenacity, collective
action, want to work closely with senior people
– Liabilities: need supervision, cocky, inexperienced with
interpersonal issues
– Motivators: working with people like themselves, making change
happen, goals
– Leadership Style: resiliency, combine teamwork ethic of Boomers
with tech skills of the Xers and a can-do attitude
• Stereotyping =
Assigning identical
characteristics to any
member of a group
regardless of his or
her individual
differences. Can be
unconscious. Can
lead to bias,
• Ethnocentrism = tendency to
think one’s own group or race
is superior to other groups or
Generational Differences:
Management Issues
• Stereotypes of each generation, based on
your experience or impressions -- How
did you arrive at the stereotypes?
Characteristics of Inter-group Conflict
Overvaluation of one’s own group
Devaluation of the other group
Polarization on issues
Distortion of perceptions
Inter-group Conflict
• In-group/out-group dynamics may help explain
our tendency to stereotype: We want to feel good
about the group we belong to, and one way is to
think less well of other groups.
– Research shows tendency to see members of own
group as individuals….but members of other group as
Can learn to manage stereotyping through
conscious awareness and control.
Get curious – ask questions
Express own concerns unemotionally
Keep to issues on the table and in the present
Take responsibility for your own ‘part’ in
• The Platinum Rule rather than Golden Rule
(others may not want or value the same things as
Expectancy Theory
Work effort is directed toward behaviors that will lead to
desired outcomes
Emphasizes the important role of perceptions of
probability that:
1. One’s effort will lead to ‘performance’;
2. The performance will lead to a particular outcome;
3. That the outcome will be valued.
In rewards, look for valued outcomes. Beware that
these may differ significantly from your own.
Some Valued Outcomes
– New technology and doing it by their own rules?
– Working with people like themselves; making
change happen; work to live?
– Being valued for their experience and knowledge?
– Being valued for their unique contributions;
personal achievement; live to work?
Exemplary employers proactively
seek generational diversity: Why?
Wisdom and experience
Fresh ideas and fearlessness
Individual skills
Need for best talent
Reflection of the
(Hankin, Harriet (2004): Boomers
and Echoes and Nexters)
• Awareness
• Adjustment
– Long-standing norms and policies allowed to change
– Includes face-time expectations, leave, rewards
– Meeting challenge of internal equity
• Cross-generational mentoring
– Nursing, healthcare
• Building ties
– Multi-age teams, expectations of synergy, mutual respect
• Recognize groups, see people as individuals.
• Manage (your own) resistance
to change.
• Ensure that segregation and
tokenism are minimal, and
integration is the principle.
Thank you for your attention…

The Generations