External factors, the changing relationship between work and life, and a shift in the structure of workplaces all contribute to a sense of generation warfare in the workplace, social entrepreneur Derek Handley says.

Handley was speaking at PwC Herald Talks: Generation War this morning when he told the audience that external factors like rising debt and the booming housing market across New Zealand can influence an unconscious resentment in Millennials.

In the coming years four generation groups, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and up-and-coming Generation Z (people born in 2000s) will all be working in the same workplaces.

Handley said literature in psychology and management journals suggested the generation war was currently unfolding.


"Every generation thinks they're special. But, when you're a Millennial and you're being told by an organisation like the UN that this generation is going to eradicate poverty, you have to admit, that's pretty special," Handley said.

Handley said young people working hard and seeing securities like owning a home and having secure income move further out of reach felt resentment to Baby Boomers, the generation they felt had handed them the situation.

"Even if its unconscious, wouldn't it make sense to expect resentment [from Millennials] and for tension to show up in the workplace?"

Younger generations want co-operative, integrated workplaces, not ones of hierarchy or structure, Handley said, with rapid and direct feedback.

Panellist Fiona Hewitt, chief executive of Institute of Management, New Zealand, said Millennials may seem demanding with what they want from their employers, but it shouldn't be over-looked as a generational trait.

"Everyone wants meaning and purpose in their workplace and millennials are more vocal about it. In fact, they're speaking for everyone in their workplace."

Hewitt said managers must individualise their approach to staff, rather than make sweeping assumptions about people because of their age, or risk alienating their workforce.

She encouraged managers to foster that sense of individual strengths in older staff members who may feel disconnected from young members of the workforce.

Handley said Millennials may appear to be impatient with moving their careers forward.

"Now, there are pretty much no companies saying 'stick with us and you'll have a job for life'. If you aren't guaranteed security and commitment then why would you give it?"

Chris Litchfield, managing director of Coca Cola Amatil for New Zealand and Fiji, said the traditional linear hierarchy of power in workplaces had to be thrown out the window.

"I don't think anybody particularly enjoys those environment's. People are individuals and generally want to work in a balanced way that adds value to their life, their whole life, not just work."

Labour MP Jacinda Ardern said job security was still important to Millennials, especially in a time when many jobs will become obsolete to automation.

Kirsti Grant, CEO of recruitment specialist firm Populate, said Millennials generally have a unique approach to work where they want to live and breath their job, rather than having a clear barrier between work and life.