With fewer layers of management, the clash between baby boomers andGen-Xers bubbles to the surface.
Today's twenty-somethings expect too much."Skip to next paragraph
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"They're so inflexible."
"They don't want anyone to tell them what to do."
"Senior management can't make a decision without forming a committee."
These are the volleys flying between baby boomers and Generation-Xers at work. And they are echoing through the corridors of virtually every company, large and small, in corporate America.
Generation gaps in the workplace are nothing new. But this argument is much more than just a disagreement over white versus blue dress shirts. Rather, the divide between today's twenty- and forty-somethings represents a fundamental shift in the way people must work in the new just-in-time economy.
With firms struggling to attract and retain talent, they are paying closer attention to the murmurings. The issue has even spawned a new industry: cross-generational management.
"There comes a point where you can't have an internal war and still compete in the marketplace," says Ron Zemke, co-author of the upcoming book "Generations at Work" (Amacom).
Differences between generations are nothing new. Older workers often think younger workers need to be more patient; younger ones think their bosses are burned out.
Yet the elimination of much of business's old hierarchy (at least on paper) is key to why these two groups are butting heads.
"The way people structurally relate to one another has changed, and there isn't a lot of protocol," Mr. Zemke contends. "When there isn't protocol for communication, we see differences in each other."
Indeed these two generations appear to differ on just about every management point in the book - from how to hold meetings to how many hours to clock.
"We started hearing rumblings from store managers about young managers two years ago," says Deborah Masten of JCPenney, headquartered in Plano, Texas. "They'd say, 'When I started out, I worked long hours. I did whatever they wanted me to do. They come in at 8 and leave at 5.' "
Boomer managers, she says, also complain that Xers constantly question their decisions - and their authority.
Generation-Xers (dubbed baby busters) gripe just as much about their senior counterparts.
Renee Manchester, an Xer who managed baby boomers and Xers for five years at a semiconductor manufacturer, says the biggest complaint Xers had about boomers was that they based promotions on tenure rather than performance.
Boomers on the other hand complained that Xers had "unrealistic" promotion tracks. And if they didn't get what they wanted they'd leave - they're just not loyal.
"There is an element of envy that this crowd of people can do what they want and get it," says Denise Brouillette, a senior partner at The Innovative Edge, a cross-generational consulting firm in San Francisco. The friction is enormous."
The two also differ on how to communicate and learn.
"Baby boomers say Generation Xers won't stick with something long enough to get deep enough into it," says Bruce Tulgan, founder of Rainmaker Thinking, a Gen-X consulting firm in New Haven, Conn.
Xers say boomers are too slow to make decisions. "They say, 'Can't they just get on with it,'" Zemke says.
Part of the key to solving the puzzle, is knowing where each generation is coming from.