Generational gaps in the workplace have long been a topic of debate, often being blamed for conflicts and misunderstandings among employees. However, the real issue at hand is not the generational gap itself, but rather a values gap caused by weak company culture. When employees from different generations share a strong belief in common values and a clear purpose, these generational differences can be bridged, creating a harmonious work environment.

In a paper from 2015, Harris defined generation conflict as “differences in communication preferences (the use of technology vs. face-to-face meeting), work values/attitudes (a work-centric perspective vs. a balanced perspective), career aspirations (opportunities for advancement vs. the desire to make a difference), and power/influence among generations” (Harris, 2015). This highlights the complexity of the issue and the importance of addressing it from a cultural perspective.

A strong company culture that emphasizes core values can help to bridge this gap and create a more harmonious, productive, and engaged workforce. Research shows that companies with a strong sense of purpose and shared values outperform their competitors in terms of financial performance and employee satisfaction. In this article, we'll explore the pain points of values gaps in the workplace, the benefits of shared values, and examples of successful companies that have prioritized shared values to attract, engage, and retain talent.

The Pain Points of Values Gaps

Values gaps can cause a range of pain points in the workplace, including misunderstanding, conflict, inherent biases, misalignment of priorities, and a lack of understanding of what makes work meaningful.

Do any of the following feel familiar to you?

  • Lack of trust and respect among colleagues
  • Difficulty in communicating effectively with each other
  • Limited collaboration or teamwork
  • Difficulty in resolving conflicts
  • Inconsistent decision-making or problem-solving approaches
  • Lower morale and employee engagement
  • Reduced productivity and innovation
  • Difficulty in meeting business objectives and goals

These pain points can often be misattributed to generational differences, leading to an even greater divide in the workplace. For example, a younger employee may value work-life balance and flexible schedules, while an older employee may value loyalty and stability. However, with a clear understanding of shared values and a belief in a common purpose, these differences can be reconciled.

A Case Study: Patagonia

Patagonia, the outdoor clothing and gear company, is a great example of a company that benefits from a diverse workforce that shares common values. The company has a strong commitment to environmental sustainability and social responsibility, which unites employees across different age groups and backgrounds.

Patagonia's commitment to the environment is reflected in their products and practices. The company uses recycled materials, reduces waste in their manufacturing processes, and donates 1% of their sales to environmental causes. This commitment to sustainability is shared by employees across the company, from the CEO to the entry-level workers. Patagonia has also been a vocal advocate for social justice issues, by taking a strong stance on issues such as climate change, protecting public lands, and fair labor practices. This advocacy has helped to create a culture of purpose and engagement among employees, who feel like they are part of a movement rather than just a company.

Patagonia's commitment to shared values has helped to create a diverse and engaged workforce. Employees are not just motivated by a paycheck, but by a sense of purpose and a desire to make a positive impact on the world. This has helped the company to attract and retain top talent, and to build a loyal customer base that shares their values.

Using Shared Values for Conflict Resolution

Using shared values as a basis for conflict resolution can be an effective approach for managers. Research has shown that each generation of managers approaches conflicts differently based on their values (Jennings, 2016). Therefore, recognizing and understanding these values is critical for successful conflict resolution. A variety of conflict resolution strategies can be used, including Morton Deutsch's ideas on conflict, mentoring programs, and intervention from human resources (Sherman, 2015). However, the strategy used is not as important as recognizing and leveraging shared values to guide the conflict to a successful resolution.

It is important to note that generational conflict may be overstated, as there are multiple reasons why an individual may react in a certain way, and it's possible that the reasons behind certain behaviors and actions may be confused with one another (Rudolph et al., 2020). Nevertheless, using shared values as a tool for conflict resolution can create a more positive and harmonious workplace, where employees feel heard and understood, and conflicts are resolved efficiently and effectively.

Using Shared Values to Attract, Engage, and Retain Talent

To bridge the values gap in the workplace, companies need to focus on building a strong and shared company culture. This includes defining core values and making them a central part of the hiring process, employee engagement programs, and retention strategies. By attracting and engaging employees who share the company's values, organizations can create a more cohesive and high-performing workforce.

Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Organizational Culture & Core Values

When employees share common values and a sense of purpose, they are more likely to work together cooperatively, even when they have different opinions or ideas. A study by Deloitte found that 94% of executives and 88% of employees believe a distinct workplace culture is important to business success.

The generational divide in the workplace is not solely a function of age differences, but rather a values gap caused by a weak company culture. By focusing on shared values, organizations can build a diverse and high-performing workforce that is united by a common purpose. So if you want to bridge the gap in your workplace, start by defining your core values and making them a central part of your culture. A high-performing culture is an effective and sustainable solution that closes the gaps and brings the best out of your diverse workplace.

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