Intergenerational Conflict

What are generations?

Generations are groupings of people based on their date of birth into time periods of about 15 years.  The five most recent generations are:

  • The Silents / Traditionalists (born between around 1925-1945);

  • The Baby Boomers (born between around 1946-1964);

  • Generation X (born between around 1965-1979);

  • Millennials / Gen Y (born between around 1980-1994);

  • Generation Z (born between around 1995-2012)

  • Generation Alpha / Polars (born 2010-2024).

Each generation has been shaped by unique historical, social, and cultural events during their lifetime. As a result, each has distinct preferences, work styles and professional goals. While there is some diversity within generations, there are some remarkable similarities. 

Why is it important to understand the different generations? As Jean Twenge, author of the new book Generations, explains:

At a time when generational conflict – from work attitudes to “OK, Boomer” – is at a level not seen since the 1960s, separating the myths from the reality of generations is more important than ever.

As we have a look at each generation’s general attributes, we must be careful, like when discussing culture, not to stereotype – there are outliers and individual differences within each generation. 


Attributes of different generations

Silents / Traditionalists:


Many Silents are now retired, or very close to retired.  There are some notable exceptions (e.g. Joe Biden).  They are generally trusting of others, institutions and government; and are typically conservative compared to other generations.  They tend to be generally stable and resilient, as well as risk averse.  In the workplace, they are typically patient, loyal and put duty before pleasure. They value loyalty, discipline, and respect authority. They are usually accustomed to a seniority-based system and command and control approach to management.

Baby boomers:


Boomers are also known as the “me” generation as they tend to be very individualistic.  This self-centredness has its problems, but their belief that individual choice and personal freedom is important has increased their acceptance of others.  They are big on self-expression and self-confidence, and self-development.  Boomers are a very big generation, and so have had (and still maintain) the power of numbers.  With better healthcare, they are also living longer, and so have dominated politics, c-suite and high level positions since the 1990s.  They typically believe that achievement comes after sacrifice.  They value organisational commitment and loyalty.  They typically have a drive and passion for hard work and long hours, and are focused on meeting targets and deadlines.  They are often highly individualistic, and want to be recognised for their specific contributions.  Baby boomers want respect for their experience.  They are good with long-term goals.  They like high levels of communication and want to exchange information. 


Gen X:


The Gen Xers are a small generation in between two larger ones.  Their exposure to the internet put individualism on steroids, and access to information meant that people could do their own ‘research’ and didn’t need to rely on experts.  Gen Xers are typically cynical, often don’t trust employers, and have a natural scepticism about politicians and corporate leaders. They are a large percentage of our current workforce.  They tend to be fairly independent, self-reliant, and confident, preferring to work alone, plan their own work and monitor their own progress.  To Gen X’ers work/life balance is usually important.  They typically have high self-esteem and will change jobs if not satisfied.  In the workplace they don’t like hierarchy, formal policies and structures – they prefer informal work environments.  They have thick skin, are open to ideas, and value free speech.



The millennials expect to love their jobs and want more than just a paycheck – they want missions that they can support and companies that are interested in their personal growth.  They see education is key to success, they are lifelong learners, so training and education programs are good motivators and rewards. They work to live, and want fun, quality friendships and a fulfilling purpose, not just a job.  They are comfortable talking openly and publicly about their feelings. They are big on building connections with others, so they are good at networking and like teamwork.  They typically expect a lot of immediate feedback (although Marcus Buckingham argues that millennials do not want constructive or candid feedback – what they want is attention – positive affirmation and validation). They are digital natives and are have short attention spans – they need short term goals, and immediate responses. 


Gen Z:


Gen Z are a very diverse group, both ethnically and in relation to gender identity.  They are social media savvy and well prepared for a global business environment.  They typically interact online rather than in-person. They can be cautious and anxious about work, and are concerned with safety (physical and emotional). Authenticity is important, and they do not distinguish between work and personal life in terms of how they present themselves. They can be prone to dissatisfaction, depression and anxiety.


Generation alpha / polars:


Generation alpha are not old enough to enter the workforce yet, but it will be interesting to see what their approach to work and conflict will be!  Many of them have experienced COVID as children, and had their lives (including school over this period) increasingly dominated by electronic technology and the internet.  It is predicted that they will be the most formally educated generation ever, and globally the wealthiest.


Inter-generational conflict

Conflict across the generations can get interesting!

Some examples of generational conflict include:

  • Choosing when and where to work.

  • Communicating among team members.

  • Whether, when and how to get together.

  • Finding information or learning new things.

  • Ideas about work/life balance, and the distinction between work and home life.

  • Whether, when and how to use technology.

  • Free speech vs psychological safety.

  • Awareness of and openness about mental health.

  • Increasing polarity between older and younger generations based on different morals and values.


An interesting aside: The ‘culture’ of an organisation often depends on the values of the largest generational group. So as millennials continue to join the workforce, many organisations will reach a tipping point, where the culture may dramatically change because the ‘balance of power’ in the workforce values has shifted. So this is going to be an increasingly topical area of conflict management.


What differences have you noticed between the generations that you come into contact with?

What kinds of dynamics have you noticed in conflicts between generations?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments!


If you’d like to know more about this topic, CCI Academy has a new webinar on demand all about Inter-Generational Conflict coming out soon!  Keep an eye out for that (and if you want to be notified when it’s released, let us know and we’ll email the moment it’s available)!


Useful references:

Generations (2023) by Jean Twenge

Our intergenerational future: cooperation not conflict (2021) by Don Edgar and Patricia Edgar, National Ageing Research Institute


Clash of the Generations (2017) by Valerie M. Grubb

Generational Diversity at Work: New Research Perspectives (2017) by Emma Parry 

Generations at work, 2nd Ed (2013) by Ron Zemke, Claire Raines and Bob Filipczak

David Denborough (2010). Kite of life: From intergenerational conflict to intergenerational alliance.

Michael Urick et al (2017) Understanding and managing intergenerational conflict: An examination of influences and strategies.  Work, Aging and Retirement 3(2): 166-185.

How to manage generational conflict in the workplace,by Arlene Hirsch


The four biggest reasons for generational conflict in teams (2009) by Tammy Erickson


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