Baby boomers want to hang onto their jobs, and they’re tired of Gen Xers bugging them to retire. Generation X workers, meanwhile, are caught between boomers who won’t leave the workforce and millennials who feel like they’re entitled to everything before paying their dues. Millennials are tired of the older generations looking down on them and their ideals, and they want to grow, prosper, and change the world.

Can’t we all just get along?

When it comes to generational conflict in the workplace, that can be easier said than done. Fortunately, however, there may be at least one thing that can help all generations find common ground: flexibility.

Before we get to that, though, let’s define who we’re talking about in these generations. The baby boomers are largely considered to be those people who were born after World War II, between 1946 and 1964. Next came Generation X, or those who were born from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s. They are followed by millennials, who were born between the early to mid-1980s and the mid-1990s to early 2000s.

Unless you’ve been avoiding all business media for the last few years, you know that millennials are taking over the workforce, leading to much consternation from boomers and those in Generation X. But several studies, as well as anecdotal evidence, suggest that all generations have a strong interest in work flexibility.

For example, a white paper on generations in the workforce from the Incentive Research Foundation cites studies that describe the millennial workforce “as desiring the same work flexibilities as other generations, in almost exactly the same numbers.”

It would appear that work flex really can offer something for everyone. An article from TIAA-CREF Financial Services outlines some of the flex areas that are of most interest to the various generations.

  • Many baby boomers, the article notes, want flexibility to help them transition into retirement and help with family demands, like caring for an aging parent.
  • Generation X workers like flex because it helps them balance work with the demands of growing families. “This is the generation that pioneered the shift to telecommuting, adopting new technologies that allowed them to stay connected to the office from afar,” the article says.
  • The TIAA-CREF article says millennials place a premium on flexibility, as they work to live, instead of living to work. Many people in this generation have strong expectations that their employers will offer flex, allowing them to balance their lives the way they want to.

With this background, you can make a strong case to your employer that offering flexibility can help overcome cross-generational stress at work.

Creation of a formal flex policy can bring people together.

One of the best ways to help bridge the differences among different groups of people is to get them working toward a common goal. Since we’ve established that flexibility is something all generations desire, why not suggest that employees representing boomers, Gen Xers, and millennials work together to create your company’s flex policy? Doing so should ensure that the policy covers all the bases while simultaneously creating more understanding and empathy among the different groups.

Flexibility can aid in recruiting and retention of employees of all generations.

Almost every company is going to need to attract and retain a diverse group of workers in order to succeed. By providing flexible work opportunities, a business can appeal to job candidates from all generations. And once they’re on the job, a policy that offers a variety of flex work options—from telecommuting for Gen X and millennials to part-time work for boomers who are easing into retirement—will help to keep those employees happy and productive.

Common experiences lead to stronger bonds.

Even if their motivations for seeking flex are different, workers who have those opportunities are bound to have similar experiences. Whether they’re telecommuting to help an aging parent or to care for a young child, they’re facing the same challenges related to things like communication and collaboration. If you can get them talking about those issues and working together on solutions, your team will grow stronger and more cohesive.

It would be simplistic to suggest that flexibility is the key to resolving every generational dispute, but these examples show its power in bringing boomers, Gen Xers, and millennials together. Anything that helps people from different generations find common ground will be good for them and for their employers.

What other reasons do you think the various generations have for seeking flexibility? In what other ways can work flex help bring people of different age groups together? Please share your ideas in the comments section.

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