Jennifer Deal
Senior Research Scientist, Center for Creative Leadership

Jennifer Deal on Generational Conflict

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Jennifer Deal

Jennifer Deal is the Senior Research Scientist at the Center for Creative Leadership and the Project Manager for the Emerging Leaders Research Project which analyzes similarities and differences between generations regarding their perceptions of leadership, learning, and values. Deal’s work focuses on helping people learn how to interact more effectively across differences of all types, specifically generational mixes. In her book Retiring the Generation Gap: How Employees Young and Old Can Find Common Ground and In a recent podcast entitled Say Goodbye to the Generation Gap, she explains how people have the same fundamental “wants”, regardless of the generation they represent, and that most of the misconceptions of the elusive generation gap stem from insecurities and need for power. Retiring the Generation Gap is an empirically-based research study in which Deal at the Center for Creative Leadership analyzed the workplace perspectives of over 3,200 employees of varying ages. She uses this data to show how, for instance, the top values listed by survey respondents across generations are largely similar.


Jennifer Deal: You know that the age stereotypes--the generational stereotypes--aren’t really real.  But you know that people still hold them.  So what do you need to do about that?  What can you do to work more effectively?  

Well, what we’ve found is that, generally, the conflict isn’t actually about generations.  It’s not about different values.  It’s not about entitlement.  What it’s about is who thinks they should be in power, who thinks they get to make the rules.  Fundamentally, it’s about clout, who has it and who wants it.  And generally, older people think that they have it and they should get to make the rules, and younger people want it and want to be able to make the rules themselves.  And if you as a manager realize that a lot of the conflict that you see is actually about clout, you’ll be able to manage the conflict much more effectively because you’ll realize that it isn’t about the things that people are talking about, it’s about other things that are underlying the conflicts.  And you can deal with those power dynamic issues more directly.  

What we find is that what people want in jobs is pretty much the same across the generations.  Everybody wants a job where they’re well paid, they do interesting work, they work with people they like and trust, they can trust their bosses, they have leaders who are credible and trustworthy, they have the opportunity to advance, to learn and develop.  If a job has all of those basics, most people are pretty happy.  The thing is, a lot of jobs don’t have those basics.  But if you as a manager can make sure that all of those bases are covered, your employees will be much happier because they’ll have most of the things that they want in the job.

Directed / Produced by
Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd