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Intergenerational Conflict: Multi-generational Age Discrimination Against Millennials

Multi-generational Age Discrimination Against Millennials


This study suggests that age discrimination against the millennial generation is caused based on external factors of unfair bias by the Baby Boom and Generation X generations. The research herein was conducted based on studies, journals and articles that highlight both the positives and negatives of the millennial era and the generational differences within workplaces regarding resolving conflict, accomplishing tasks, and team management. This paper also proposes that millennials struggle in work center environments due to the external negative bias levied against them because of the technological revolution of the modern era, identified as digital immigrants for digital migrants. This study identifies research that composes the different values of millennials when compared to previous generations and how these values are drivers for different workplace incentives by millennials as they job hunt. Through this multi lens approach to inter-generational conflict the identification of a much larger ageism debate arises outside of work force changes for millennial inclusion.
Ageism in a Millennial World
The world belongs to the millennials, or at least it will in the very near future. Ageism against millennials is a sort of taboo research topic. Weber, 2016, stated that a clear understanding of this group is critical since the millennial workforce will quickly become the future leaders of business, the largest population of consumers, and, the primary pool of investors. Yet it is noted still that understanding of millennials is small and there needs to be more studies performed to identify for current Generation X and Baby Boom managers how to employ this large and growing generation flooding into the workforce. However, this problem is compounded by external influence.
External associations by older generations basically deem millennials, as Dolby, 2014, wrote; generally timid, self-absorbed rule followers, who are immature, lack interpersonal skills, and have little global or cultural knowledge. This external association is resoundingly negative and is being applied to a potential workforce that within the next decade or so will have over eighty million working members of the United States work force (Weber, 2016). One of the issues facing millennials is the expansive increase in technology and its 20+ year generational time-frame. Technology has, according to some, turned millennials into societal members who shy away from the forced human intimacy of face-to-face communication, and even the phone (Dolby, 2014). Through studies and research this doesn’t seem to be strictly limited to one field or one generation causing the technological progress. Dolby, 2014, references the higher education field when she slams the millennial generation by stating that many of the trends in higher education are moving us away from a prosperous and sustainable future for the planet. This is an outright egregious research faux pas that is levied by biased research data against the millennial generation. Yet, there seems to be data in the research that suggests Generation Z, the post millennial generation, is generating some of these negative influences that are being mislabeled to millennials.
Furthering the supporting evidence of negative perception, the study by Milkman, 2017, highlights the behavior of millennials in the protest environments that surrounded major socio-political events in the United States since 2008. The study highlights four major protest points and how millennials ended up dividing amongst themselves into different frames of thought. Milkman covers the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) act and the protests that arose after President Obama’s 2008 election. The DREAMers movement contains millennials that are typically youthful and highly educated but according to Milkman, 2017, when they broke away from their previous generations circa 2008 the group divided and some thought working in the system was the best way forward while others displayed civil disobedience and courted being deported at border patrol stations. The latter of these attitudes has nearly validated the negative perceptions of millennial entitlement and disruption by Baby Boom and Generation X generations. Expanding the outlook to include the entirety of the millennial movement the influence of those external movements seems to reason the work center discrimination that has placated itself in society.
To protest the negative external biased perceptions and anti-millennial data, there are studies with data that support millennials having the same work ethic and drive as previous generations, surveys that show millennials are active team players, and possess many other great attributes for employment much like previous generations, yet employers still discriminate against this younger generation of employee. Some companies have even gone as far as stating that they are uncomfortable hiring employees under the age of 40 (Wooldridge, 2015). Associated with this age discrimination are the discriminatory factors mentioned before including millennials being more culturally sensitive and open to diversity factors that during previous generations were unspeakable and possibly shunned against.

Scoping the Millennial Ageism Problem

Winograd, 2015, sums up that the difference in hiring and employment of the generations is ideological, surmising that the Baby Boom and Generation X era members, bring their deeply held set of values to every political debate because it is imperative to their generation. This begins to lead into the ideology of inter-generational conflict because values of potential employees have changed drastically. This can be seen in the external values by millennials. Millennials in contrast to members of Baby Boom and Generation X don’t let their ideological postures stand in the way, in fact Winograd, 2015, believed millennial idealism is accompanied by pragmatic impulse focused on finding solutions.
The ageism of millennials is a very large comprehensive and diverse problem. It will take an understanding of old business leaders and a wave of new business leaders to confront the problem head-on and avoid discriminatory practices. According to Warnell, 2015, there are approximately 90 million identifiable millennials in the generation with the younger aged millennials making up the largest age sector in America, to which Warnell argues should be enough for businesses to create and maintain a suitable body of young, able bodied employees for a generation that will soon make up 50% of the entire American workforce.
Workplace discrimination based on age has typically been reserved for older employees over the age of 40 who feel that they have been slighted based off a negative perception of their employer solely based on their age. However, in the new age of technology with the massive influx of millennial aged workers entering the workforce there has been a widespread shift in the perception of these younger aged workers. Raymer et al., 2017, highlighted the existence of age discrimination laws that protect individuals in the U.S. aged 40 years or older stating that there is a clear exclusive focus on older and that little attention has been paid to stereotypes and discrimination that younger adults face in the workplace. These events of negative perception have created an inter-generational conflict not only across the workplace but between the Baby Boom, Generation X and Millennial generations all together. To get a more thorough understanding of the cultural and group impacts that this discrimination has the study of inter-generational conflict must be expanded beyond just the workplace environment.
To gain an understanding of the overall impact of inter-generational conflict this study supposes that the cause of inter-generational conflict in the workplace is a subset of behaviors affecting multiple cultures and groups. Rasmi and Daly, 2015, stated that inter-generational conflict is defined as the conflict that occurs between parents and children and that these conflicts have been extensively researched in European and African American families, but that there is a shortage of data on how these conflicts existed in other cultures. Mitchell, Lai, and Fraser, 2014, supported the familial basis of inter-generational conflict when stating that because of the current wave of public discourse, mass media and recent research, there is strong support behind the contention that inter-generational relations, notably relationships between midlife parents and their young adult children, are becoming increasingly important.
Examining the sociology behind inter-generational conflict Zhu, Yang and Bai, 2016, quoted sociologist Mannheim, 1952, “a generation is a social position whereby people in the same age group share certain characteristics and values.” Further complicating the study of inter-generational conflict Krieger and Ruhose, 2013, identified inter-generational conflict as the conflict that arises when the interests of different age groups do not align. Krieger and Ruhose, 2013, studied the multiple facets of inter-generational conflict and the potential triggers for the conflict. For example, Krieger and Ruhose, 2013, stated that in an aging society, the political power of the elderly may increase as the average voter age rises, special-interest groups of retired citizens gain influence, thus lending to the possibility of reduction in public spending aimed at families.
Emery, 2012, supported the notion of inter-generational conflict triggers stating that inter-generational conflict theories suggest that political parties and candidates mobilize the electorate by appealing to individual self-interests. Emery, 2012, continued that though accuracy on the results of studies of political policy differences between the young and old are mixed, the evidence suggests that values change by generation. If Krieger and Ruhose, 2013, and Emery, 2012, both support the notion through research that inter-generational conflict is essentially unavoidable as each prior generation gains more influence to affect policy, workplace inter-generational conflict is just a small subset of the problem. Inter-generational conflict is clearly affected by multiple external factors and evidence exists that cultural changes, political changes, and even technological changes can influence the change in values between generations.
Multiple studies including research by Sink et al., 2016, and Sullivan, 2017, touched on the increased technology that is available to influence society. Tools like social media have become increasingly available worldwide and millennials have largely attached themselves to tools like this and are largely influenced through them. Sullivan touches on the social media effects that influence millennials. Social media has an unprecedented reach when it comes to free speech; off-hand remarks, social commentary, and general opinions and ideas that go much further than the general office gossip that occurred in previous generation work environments (Sullivan, 2017). Because of this widespread ability to ‘go viral’ Sullivan argues that employment law doesn’t support employees that utilize a free speech platform to provide their opinion. Sullivan argues that social media has an influence for an unsuspecting person to post misunderstood comment online and face consequences of unemployment that has nothing to do with their job-related competencies (Sullivan, 2017).
Sink has linked millennials to a term “digital native” which basically supplants anyone born after 1980 as being born into a wave of technological integration that is now firmly integrated into our daily lives (Sink et al., 2016). But within Sink et al, 2016, admitted that digital natives and youth are preferred by technological companies for innovation and familiarity with technical language and products, companies use this to discriminate against the Baby Boom and Generation X potential employees. While this study supports the technical and educational prowess of millennials it is contradictory to the purpose of identifying millennial age discrimination in the workplace.
Based off the pretextual explanations of age discrimination over 40 in supposed job post wording, one could contest that any job posting that requires a college degree and 10-15 years of experience could be age discriminatory to someone that falls into the millennial data set and the argument could be made against the research that the theory behind this research supports age discrimination towards youthful millennials. This ageism mindset is countered by Raymer et al., 2017, study that noted generational stereotypes are paving a path towards a reverse or counter ageism than what is currently written in law and is now growing to be supported by emerging studies.

Collaborative Gaps

With the vast amount of research available about millennial employment which includes data that identifies what millennials are actively searching for in an employer, one should be led to believe that there would be cross collaborative efforts to bridge the gaps of understanding between members of each of the generations currently in the workforce. However, this is not the case. The millennial generation has some significantly different ideological principles that are flexible which creates the perception amongst older generations that they don’t possess an inherent ability to stick to their values and principles. Brown, 2017, clarified the millennial ideology even further by classifying the millennial generation as civic-minded. Civic-mindedness is not a negative association, in fact, doing or participating in actions that contribute to the public good or humanity, should be perceived as a positive. The issue arises when taking the ideology that millennials don’t stick to or follow through when issues become tough, it highlights negatively that while millennials rally to causes quickly, there is the potential for abandonment at the first sign of resistance.
Brown, 2017, asserted that Millennials believe that all their heritages should be respected, counted, and acknowledged which is a huge ideological shift for a generation. To further complicate the ability of older generations to connect with millennials is to factor in technology. With the advent of social media, the home computer, and many of the other technological advancements, older generations are slow to pick up on technological progression and some exhibit a failure to even want to make the attempt. The social media issue with millennials is further complicated through the guise of hypersensitivity and political correctness. Sullivan, 2017, wrote that the millennial ideological strong points of inclusivity and cultural sensitivity are admirable, however other academics express concerns that the millennial generation and ideology of cultural sensitivity is forcing millennials to resist discussing viewpoints they disagree with. Conversely, millennials are quick to rally to causes and challenges on social media in support of things they strongly agree with.
As an aside to the collaborative problems that millennials and older generations face in terms of ideologies and technologies, a lot of the discrimination seems to stem from a misunderstanding or a forgetfulness of older generations on what it takes to enter the work force. Wooldridge, 2015, argues that while millennials will have a smaller chance at commanding office politics in a hierarchal structure than members of the Baby Boom or Generation X, he also surmises that this statement is true of members of the previous generations when they were 20-somethings.

Millennial Culture and Ethics

Key to understanding the massive digital native or millennial generation movement is to investigate the personal values orientation (PVO) of millennials. Weber, 2016, wrote that Millennials’ PVO is generally consistent with managerial PVO from past research, millennials lean toward a personal and competent value orientation. This is not without emerging subtle differences. Millennials also tend to range toward more competence than todays managers but less than Generation X, millennials also lean toward more moral managers than Generation X (Weber, 2016). According to some the public perception is that the millennial generation is just different from the others, but research conducted in the study shows that the public largely believes that every generation is different (Raymer et al., 2017). The argument being made isn’t that the millennial generation is different, it is widely accepted through reluctance to accept things like unions as the best way to look after one’s employment rights.
This is supported by Cates research expounding on the differences in the generations joining and not joining workplace unions (Cates, 2014). Cates theorizes on both ends of the spectrum when conducted the study on unions and millennials. In one instance Cates acknowledges that millennials are much more creative and inspired when challenged, but then throws the negative characterization of being coddled to believe in entitlement as a concern of employment for millennials (Cates, 2014). It is in this theory and study that first mention of inter-generational conflict is identified where the generations just don’t seem to understand the other, whether it be through the reliance on technology or the lack of respect for a traditional hierarchy. These views come full swing in the analysis of millennials willingness to not join a union. Cates identifies that the difference between the millennials and prior generations is that millennials would rather focus on skills development and job enrichment which most unions are not focused on (Cates, 2014).
When placed in an ethical framework the generational research supports the ideology that the millennials are more technologically advanced and more educated yet these mostly negative characterizations of Millennials that spreads itself across social media, the internet etc. simply fuels preexisting reverse-ageist ideology. Thus, setting the stage for discriminatory behaviors directed at young employees (Raymer et al., 2017). Much like Cates identifying inter-generational conflict, Weeks et al., 2017, focused their study on generational stereotypes including; millennials are better at technology than the previous generations, but also that millennials don’t do what it takes to get the job done as often as the previous generations. The issue with the introduction of millennials in the Weeks et al study is that of continuing negative perceptions of millennials.
Regarding hiring, recruiting and retaining millennials workplace managers ask how to better perform those tasks but then complain about the millennials’ perceived values, ethics and attitudes toward employment (Weeks et al, 2017). However, substantive research and surveys supports the generational progress of difference through adapting to the current influences of society. Not surprisingly enough this is one of the key indicators of difference in inter-generational conflict where the study identifies that millennials are comfortable utilizing technology for peer to peer and supervisory exchange whereas the older generations preferred face to face conversation in this regard (Weeks et al., 2017). A key point in the understanding of perception and inter-generational conflict is the stereotype in-group verse the out-group in this study the in-group is how the millennials perceive the older generations perceive them. According to the evidence there exists that age-based meta-stereotypes are prevalent, and the individuals of the in-groups believe that people from other age groups view them more negatively than how they are perceived (Weeks et al., 2017).

Identifying Potential Solutions

Warnell, 2015, wrote about a potential collaborative solution that lent credibility to the millennial generations voice stating that the giving voice to values (GVV) approach is particularly suited toward cultivating millennial talent and engaging young professionals toward ethical leadership. This approach to giving a generational voice value lends to an understanding of the millennial concerns and is often used in a post decision-making employment scenario (Warnell, 2015). This approach teaches not only millennials but employers to identify what their values are after they’ve decided regarding employment so that the millennial and the employer have clear understanding of the values they expect of one another. Of course, this is just a small step in bridging generational differences. There are multiple studies that support a cultural training approach to resolving generational culture gaps.
Wankel, 2016, study focused on cross-cultural training utilizing social media is a potential way to resolve work center cultural problems. This training might involve co-creation where a millennial trainee explains jobs, transactions, and venues they will be operating in. By utilizing social media tools, combined with face to face interaction the millennial and older generation employee are essentially utilizing a combination of approaches, one that each generation favors, to bridge the gap which leads to better generational cultural awareness thus increasing work center productivity and employee collaboration. Through co-creation the trainer can then share knowledge and critical insights as the training proceeds (Wankel, 2016). This approach to utilizing a sort of best practices for each employee in different generations acknowledges the differences between them but also forces each member out of their cultural comfort zone to learn and interact with their peers, subordinates and employers.
A multitude of recent prevailing studies of meta-stereotypes, generational differences, and growing work place concerns, management perception is growing in understanding that the challenges they are faced with, are not confined to the millennial generation, and are problems that are compounded with all generational differences. With the presence of four generations in the workplace, these generations are creating challenges with the nature of work and work center relations (Costanza et al., 2015). The Costanza et al., 2015, study supposed that research data isn’t necessarily indicative of birth year generational differences but perhaps to look at the younger populace of each generation and the perceptions they faced from the older in-group generational populace. By taking this approach and examining the same sectors of each generation at their given time in history the potential exists to draw similarities through studies that will support an ideologic baseline that these issues are not new, just more prevalent due to the size of the millennial generation.


The research data on inter-generational conflict suggests that there are many external influences on the overall problem of millennial integration in society and the workplace. While studies exist that have had general success in resolving portions of inter-generational conflict, such as the Zhu, Yang, Bai, 2016, study that determined utilizing appropriate conflict management techniques in the workplace led to observable to positive resolution, there exists factors beyond the control and scope of an employer. For example, while the European, Asian, and African American ethnocultural groups have been studied in their familial responses to inter-generational conflict, the Arab group has remained untouched. Rasmi and Daly, 2016, annotated the vast differences between the Arab group and the others, therefore further study to identify better paths to conflict management would need to occur for certain ethnocultural groups to facilitate cultural resolutions.
The intended further study would not be able to cease at just cultural differences. Emery, 2012, and Krieger and Ruhose, 2013, both highlighted that there exist external triggers for inter-generational conflict, one of these triggers being policy preference in the political realm. This political generational conflict was on display in 2016 during the United States of America Democratic Party candidate nomination race between Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders and ultimately in the Presidential election. To further add to the complexity of the identification of inter-generational conflict are the potential individual experiences stated in Mitchell, Lai and Fraser, 2014. The Mitchell, Lai and Fraser, 2014, study suggested that a more sociological approach be applied to determining cause of inter-generational conflicts within families to determine what individual experiences may be triggers for that conflict. Lastly, Rasmi and Daly, 2016 stated that some cultures that experience familial inter-generational conflict due to their ethnocultural group either do not identify it as such or use a strict value system of honor to where the external values of a young adult not aligning with a parent would be dishonorable to the culture and heritage.
With the negatives that supplant inter-generational conflict as a seemingly insurmountable problem with no true resolution, there are key positive triggers that were identified in the research. Both Zhu et al., 2016, and Mitchell et al., 2014, identified positive changes in small settings through conflict management. Zhu, Yang, Bai, 2016 went further to identify that certain types of workplace conflict can produce positive results in work engagement for an employee. A further study on the types of conflict that produce positive results be conducted on a wider array of the external triggers of inter-generational conflict to gain a better understanding of how to apply conflict management to the varying ethnocultural groups and sociological analyses of individual experiences.
There was an original intent to expand the scope of the study of the millennial research problem was to identify external differences in generational workplace stereotypes that was creating ageism towards the millennial generation, and these were based on external perceptions. It is however evident that the research required to identify ageism in younger people is to potentially remove the generational construct. However, there is strong evidence that supports that ageism towards younger individuals exists but that the discrimination is not necessarily rooted in influenced perceptions of millennials. There is also strong evidence that would support changes to age discrimination employment law to support the younger workforce so long as the laws weren’t swayed to discriminate one generational in-group from another. Research clearly supports that the generations have adapted and changed socially, politically, and in values and ethics in and outside of the workplace. Performing a larger, more in-depth study involving a larger portion of affected generational populaces, this would allow a deeper study of the in-group perceptions across generational bounds.
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