Intergenerational Conflicts and Approaches to Their Management: A Comparative Look at China and Russia

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Intergenerational conflicts and approaches to their management: a comparative look at China and Russia

 

Abstract

 

The continued globalization and internationalization of erstwhile regional and local markets and workplaces have given rise to issues of intercultural and intergenerational conflict, as the workplace becomes both more generationally and culturally diverse. With the growing financial influence of China on the world stage, as well as a resurgent Russia, there is an understanding that erstwhile approaches to studying intergenerational differences and sources of conflict in Western cultures may need to be modified to better account for how factors like social hierarchy, age dynamics and filial piety interact in non-Western contexts. For countries like Russia and China, growing business and trade ties might often lead to workplace conflicts or misunderstandings, as individuals from different generations and cultures interact in diverse contexts. Businesses, meanwhile, do not have enough data to formulate effective policies and training programs to mitigate such possibilities. The current study sought to address this gap by employing a scenario-based semi-structured questionnaire that incorporated participant-generated bubble dialogues to study the approaches of 73 Chinese and 73 Russian professionals towards intergenerational conflict management at the workplace. The results indicate that while older participants from both Chinese and Russian prefer to avoid sources of conflict, or approach them more passively, their younger counterparts prefer more active approaches. Younger respondents are also less constrained by age-related hierarchical considerations, with such differences starkest between younger and older Chinese respondents.

Keywords: conflict management, intergenerational conflict, generation gap, China, Russia, generations, organizations

1. Introduction

 

In the West, research on generational interactions and workplace conflict has generally looked at five main groups: the Traditionalists (born between 1922 and 1946), Baby Boomers (1946-1964), Generation X (1964-1980), Generation Y (1980-1995) and, to a much lesser extent, Generation Z (1995-present) (Bursch & Kelly, 2014; Bencsik, et al., 2016). In the Chinese context, where interest in the study of generations has been growing of late (Sun & Wang, 2010), experts have approached the concept of generations in several different ways. Some have simply categorized the entire population as belonging either to the older generation or to a younger generation (Orville & Jorgensen, 1995). Others, like Erickson (2009), divide the population into several generational cohorts: Boomers (born between 1946 and 1960-64), Generation X (1961-65 to 1979), and Generation Y (1980 to 1995), much like in Western studies. There are also those that have used their own terminology to describe generations in China. For example, Egri & Ralston (2004) refer to the Chinese Baby Boomer generation as the Consolidation generation, while Generation X is referred to as the Social Reform generation. These terms refer to specific periods of sociopolitical change in China. In the Russian context, generational cohorts have similarly been approached in diverse ways. Vdovina (2005), for example, divides generations in Russia into young (between 16-30 years), middle (31-55 years) and old (over 55 years). Her approach is similar to that used by Starchikova (2012), although the cutoff ages for each generational cohort are slightly different, e.g. young (15-29  years), middle (30-49 years) and old (50-75 years). Kravchuk & Shkarina (2007), on the other hand, in their study of intergenerational interactions, simply divide the population into older and younger generations. Based on the literature, it is clear that the generational cohorts in the Russian context can be, like their Chinese counterparts, quite fluid, although it is sometimes not clear why studies have employed certain categorizations. It should also be noted that most studies in the Russian context have looked at intergenerational interactions and conflict in the family, (Vdovina, 2005), or at the societal level (Starchikova, 2012), with many being theoretical works (Grjaznova, 2011). As a result, while these studies are useful in providing a general overview of current intergenerational relations in Russia, there applicability to workplace conditions are limited, especially in multinational settings where different nationalities and generations are working side by side.

In terms of intergenerational dynamics at the workplace in international contexts, trends indicate that the Baby Boomer generation has been steadily leaving the workforce, with individuals from Generation X and Y taking their place. These generational changes have often resulted in intergenerational conflict because of different values, misunderstandings, and older/younger employee interactions (Collins, et al., 2009), all of which have often negatively affected corporate plans and company products (Sessa, et al., 2007). Given how harmful intergenerational conflicts can be, companies are understandably focused on formulating policies and strategies that ensure a productive multigenerational environment (Benson & Brown, 2011). A number of reasons have been cited for why intergenerational conflicts might occur, from different expectations and experiences, to work values and cultural orientations (Zhang & Hummert, 2001; Lyons & Kuron, 2014; Stewart, et al., 2017). Nevertheless, most studies have mostly looked at workplaces in the West, and the applicability of their findings with regard to non-Western contexts is questionable due to differences in culture and value systems. Studies on intergenerational conflicts at work in China or other Eastern settings, or, for that matter, from Eurasia and Russia, continue to be limited, although interest appears to be growing (Dai & Chen, 2017; Shen, 2017). Consequently, there is a need to look at how different generations interact with each other in the workplace based on different geographies in order to achieve a more comprehensive understanding of intergenerational conflicts given an increasingly globalized economic and trade environment.

2. Literature Review

According to Mannheim (1952), the concept of generation refers to an aggregate of people differentiated from others by their age. Different generations could have different values because of different life courses and historical settings, as well as due to significant events in their life that helped to mold their personality (Smith & Nichols, 2015). For Zhang & Cheng (1988), a ‘generation’ represents a group of people that have certain shared traits due to a shared historical background. They feel that age is not a standard that divides generations; instead, it is serves as an indicator that makes it possible to judge members of a specific generational cohort. Globally, there have been notable changes in the generational makeup of national workforces, which, in turn, has led to more importance being placed on understanding the needs and expectations of these different groups not only as individual component, but also in terms of how they interact with each other. In this regard, while several studies exist that focus on cultural and organizational diversity (Greene & Kirton, 2015; Roberson, et al., 2017), there has been comparatively less research done on intergenerational interactions in the workplace, especially in Eurasian and Asian contexts. This is significant because studies indicate notable differences and sources of tension between generations. In the Chinese context, for example, older generations have shown to be more collectivist in how they approach interactions at the workplace, while younger generations appear to be more individualistic (Ma, et al., 2016). Given these differing attitudes to workplace interactions, it is normal to expect intergenerational conflicts to arise if this diversity is not properly understood and appropriate steps taken to manage it. In order for corporations to better mitigate such occurrences, it is important, then, to understand how different generations, given their unique characteristics, might approach conflict management at work.

2.1 Conflict management styles

The literature review identified four approaches to conflict management that can be considered within an intergenerational contextual framework (Cai & Fink, 2002; Zhang, et al., 2005; Khakimova, et al., 2012; Gupta, et al., 2016): the confrontaional, problem-solving, avoiding and accomodating approaches. The competing or confrontational approach can be described as being exceedingly uncooperative, combative, aggressive and, generally, negative. Behavior that can be characterized as confrontational might take the form of rejecting responsibility for one’s mistakes, blaming others, and becoming overly defensive to the point where one engages in aggressive questioning. The problem-solving approach, meanwhile, stresses cooperation and assertiveness in order to arrive at a mutually acceptable solution to a conflict. Such an approach employs empathy and seeks to engage people in order to obtain feedback and find a resolution to the conflict based on terms to which all parties can agree. The accommodating approach is quite similar to the problem-solving approach in that it, too, stresses cooperation and empathy, although there is also an insistence on pacifism, taking full responsibility for one’s actions, apologizing and seeking a peaceful resolution to the conflict. The avoiding approach stresses downplaying disagreements, lack of response to potential sources of conflict, and passivity. These conflict management styles have been identified in several studies focusing on diverse contexts. For example, studies focusing on Asia have found that people generally preferred avoiding and accommodating approaches to conflict management (Kim, 2010). There are also a number of comparative studies that look at intergenerational differences, although most of these compare Asian and Western contexts (Egri & Ralston, 2004; McCann & Giles, 2007), and cross-cultural comparisons as part of a generational framework involving Eurasian and Easter European contexts, e.g. Russia, are quite limited (Veiga, et al., 1995; Matveev & Nelson, 2004). Indeed, studies that compare intergenerational differences, including approaches to conflict management, between China and its neighbors are much rarer. This is an especially important area given China’s Belt and Road initiative, which would inevitably foresee largescale economically motivated multi-generational interactions between the Chinese and the countries that border it.

 

2.3 Intergenerational sources of tension: the view from Russia and China

In the Chinese context, the concepts of filial piety, harmony and hierarchy have normally tended to institutionalize the power that older generations have over younger generations, leading to certain expectations of a respect for age-based hierarchy with regard to intergenerational interactions (Zhang, et al., 2005). Sources of conflict generally arise when older generations perceive younger generations as having violated these norms or for being irresponsible, at which point older individuals might openly criticize young people for their perceived infractions (Zhang & Hummert, 2001; Zhang, et al., 2005). Older generations might perceive this criticism as representing “bitter medicine that cures a bad disease” (Zhang, et al., 2005; p. 72). Against this expectation, there are studies that suggest that younger generations in China are seeking a more equal, egalitarian position vis-a-vis their older counterparts with regard to intergenerational interaction, one that stresses their more individualistic personalities and aspirations (Ng et al., 1997; Zhang & Hummert, 2001; Sun & Wang, 2010; Ma, et al., 2016). These studies are valuable in that they not only suggest that significant cultural changes are taking place in China, but that there might be looming conflicts between younger and older generations, as the expectations of these two cohorts diverge and clash. These studies also indicate that older generations would likely expect younger generations to adopt an avoiding or accommodating approach to conflict management given their lower status, while a problem-solving approach, which is more popular in the West, would constitute a threat to the older generations concept of face and hierarchy. It is likely, as a result, that these differing preferences in terms of approach to conflict management may result in conflict between older and younger Chinese individuals.

With regard to Russia, studies indicate that intergenerational conflicts can generally be attributed to societal uncertainties because of demographic changes, as well as value differences between older and younger generations, which result in misunderstandings and tension (Starchikova, 2012; Shurbe, 2013). For example, Starchikova (2012) notes that younger generations do not percieve older generations as guardians of knowledge and wisdom, or as figures of authority, which has led to a weakening of family ties. This shift in values is also reflected in the study by Kravchuk & Shkarina (2007) who note that older generations look at younger generations with a mix of fear and annoyance, while younger generations look at older generations as being of weak health and conservative outlook. They note that there is a gulf in understanding between the two. Smol’kin (2011) points to different expectations among younger and older generations in Russia, echoing Starchikova (2012), although he seems to single out older generations for initiating conflicts because of what they perceive as younger generations’ breaking the norms in a given situation. He refers to them as “aggressive victims”, noting that younger generations generally prefer to adopt an avoiding approach since “the  entrenched  culture of  everyday  interaction  does  not  spell  out  prescriptions  for  situations in  which  older  people  are  at  fault” (p. 39).

While instructive, it should be pointed out that the literature on intergenerational interactions and conflict in Chinese and Russian contexts often revealed little in terms of concrete details regarding workplace interaction and approaches to conflict management. The literature review also turned up more studies on workplace interactions in the Chinese context, and shed comparatively less on the situation in Russian workplaces, despite there being several Russian studies on the more general contours of intergenerational interaction and conflict in the country. In this regard, the studies indicated that both Chinese and Russian societies are witnessing significant generational changes, with younger generations according less importance to age as a determiner of wisdom and authority, while seeking greater autonomy. The literature also suggested that older generations in China and Russia might act more aggressively in situations where they felt that certain red lines vis-a-vis behavior were being crossed, and that younger generations were likely to try and avoid such situations since the culture of interaction continued to exert influence and constrain younger generations from adopting more active approaches vis-a-vis older generations, regardless of who was at fault. It would, then, be interesting to see how these dynamics played out at the workplace, and what kind of strategies older and younger generations adopted with regard to conflict management, two themes that appear only rarely in the literature.

2.4 Research Question

Having identified the gaps in information during the literature review, it was decided that the following questions would form the basis for the study:

  1. How do you younger and older generations in Russia and China approach sources of potential conflict at the workplace? How do they differ?
  2. Are there country-specific differences between members from the same generational cohorts?

3. Methods and Instruments

As part of the study, six intergenerational conflict scenarios, in the form of a semi-structured questionnaire, were created for Chinese and Russian participants involving younger/older co-worker pairs in a corporate setting. The scenarios, presented in Russian and Chinese respectively, consisted of situations where younger and older employees are faced with commonly encountered potential sources of conflict, e.g. old>young or young>old employee criticism and rebuff scenarios (Zhang, 2004). The scenarios were designed based on responses to questions about daily interactions at the workplace that were received from a focus group of Russian and Chinese respondents living in Moscow. The study invited participants to create their own dialogue for each scenario in the form of conversation bubbles, and report on the emotions felt the old/young co-worker pair, i.e. each scenario consisted of two tasks. There was no restriction placed on the length of each dialogue created by participants. The questionnaire also collected data on participants’ ages, years of work experience and work background. In terms of participant profile, the study targeted two age groups (20-35) and (50-65) for research. The reasons for designing the two groups in this manner were several: firstly, generational cohorts in China and Russia do not necessarily accurately match their counterparts from the West (Glotov, 2004; Hung, et al., 2007; Kravchuk & Shkarina, 2007; Gu, et al., 2010; Sun & Wang, 2010). Secondly, the current format has precedence since a similar age group format was adopted by Zhang & Hummert (2001) for their study. If applying purely Western concepts of generational cohorts, the age groups in this study can be considered to represent Generation Z and Y (20-35) on the one hand, and Generation X and the Baby Boomers (50-65) on the other. The study was piloted with 8 potential participants, four Chinese and four Russian employees from two companies in Moscow. Oral feedback provided by participants from the pilot study confirmed that the situations were practical and engaging. The final questionnaire was sent in the form of an email containing a link to the relevant administrative departments at five companies in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Beijing where both Russian and Chinese nationals are employed. The email explained the scope and objectives of the study, and asked the companies to forward the email to relevant staff.

3.1 Sampling

The study used cluster and snowball sampling methods for the purposes of inviting participants to participate in the research. In total, 146 participants (73 Chinese and 73 Russian) completed the questionnaire. In terms of gender and age group, the ratios were mostly even.

3.2 Data Analysis

In terms of analysis, dialogue responses were analyzed, coded and categorized based on conflict management styles and emotional responses using Atlast.ti software. For example, responses that reflected the competing approach might include dialogue where the older employee reacts confrontationally towards the younger employee, refusing to take responsibility for the situation, and where the expressed emotion was ‘anger’ or ‘offended’. An avoiding approach might see the younger employee try to avoid any conflicts by trying to sidestep any discussion of the situation, or by trying to have as brief a conversation as possible. The accommodating approach might see the older employee taking full responsibility for the situation, apologizing and accepting the legitimacy of the other’s position. The problem-solving approach, meanwhile, could result in the younger employee opting for a more productive approach to the situation, showing empathy and seeking positive changes through more diplomatic means. In order to ensure the accuracy of the coding, the data also underwent coding by an independent rater who was informed about the nature of the instrument and was familiar with the different approaches to conflict management. Cohen’s kappa value was found to be .89, which showed that there was strong agreement in terms of interrater reliability during the coding process. Following the coding process, the four approaches were grouped according to a scale format going from least cooperative to most cooperative, i.e. confrontational, avoiding, accommodating, and problem-solving. This grouping was then used to test for statistically significant differences, with the help of SPSS software, in conflict management approaches based on country of origin and generational cohort using the Kruskal Wallis test, followed by the Dunn-Bonferroni post hoc test and hedge’s g for the purposes of calculating effect size depending on statistical significance. An alpha level of p = .05 was used for all tests. When reporting hedge’s g, the study uses Cohen’s (1969) suggestions: 0.2 is a small effect size, 0.5 is a medium effect size, and 0.8 is a large effect size (Orwin, 1983).

4. Results

Table 1 shows participants’ coded responses to Scenario 1 (An older employee saw a younger employee making a serious mistake). The data indicates that older Chinese and Russian respondents differ in how they felt the older employee would behave in the given situation. The older Russian respondents, on average, felt that the older employee would approach the situation with a mixture of avoiding and accommodating styles. The older Chinese respondents, on the hand, expected a more confrontational approach. The younger participants, both Chinese and Russian, were quite similar to each other in that they expected the older employee to be more accommodating towards the mistakes of the younger employee. Regarding the behavior of the younger employee, the majority of participants, regardless of generational cohort and national origin, appear to show a preference for a mostly accommodating approach.

Table 1 Participant responses to Scenario 1

Participants How does the older employee react? How does the younger employee react?
N Mean SD Median N Mean SD Median
Older Russians 36 2.67 1.39 3.00 36 2.78 .80 3.00
Younger Russians 37 3.16 1.28 4.00 37 2.76 .72 3.00
Older Chinese 36 1.58 1.13 1.00 36 2.67 .79 3.00
Younger Chinese 34 3.21 1.34 4.00 34 2.82 .90 3.00
Total 143 2.92 1.39 4.00 143 2.76 .80 3.00

Note. 1=Confrontational 2=Avoiding 3=Accommodating 4=Problem-solving

Kruskal-Wallis test results indicated that there was a statistically significant difference between the four groups in terms of how they expected the older employee to react [H = 30.52, df = 3, N = 143, p < .01]. Dunn-Bonferroni post-hoc tests showed that, with regard to the older employee’s approach, the difference was significant between older Chinese and Russian participants [p = 0.013, Hedge’s g = -0.851], older and younger Chinese participants [p < .01, Hedge’s g = -1.304], and older Chinese and younger Russian participants [p < .01, Hedge’s g = -1.294].

Table 2 shows participants’ coded responses to Scenario 2 (A younger employee saw an older employee making a serious mistake). Here the data reveals that while participants mostly expected the older employee’s reaction to lie somewhere between an accommodating and avoiding approach, older Chinese respondents expected the older employee to react somewhat more confrontationally. A similar pattern can be witnessed with regard to expectations about the younger employee’s behavior, although with some notable differences. Here, younger Chinese and Russians clearly lean more towards a problem-solving approach regarding the younger employee than older participants. There is also a stark difference between older Chinese and Russian participants, with older Chinese participants, on average, expecting the younger employee to adopt a more avoiding approach when confronted with such a situation.

Table 2 Participant responses to Scenario 2

Participants How does the older employee react? How does the younger employee react?
N Mean SD Median N Mean SD Median
Older Russians 36 2.53 1.03 3 36 3.08 1.02 3
Younger Russians 37 2.95 1.15 3 37 3.57 .83 4
Older Chinese 35 1.86 .91 2 35 2.03 1.07 2
Younger Chinese 29 2.55 1.12 3 29 3.38 1.01 4
Total 137 2.47 1.12 3 137 3.01 1.15 3

Note. 1=Confrontational 2=Avoiding 3=Accommodating 4=Problem-solving

Kruskal-Wallis test results indicated that there was a statistically significant difference between the four groups both in terms of how they expected the older employee to react [H = 18.54, df = 3, N = 137, p < .01], as well as the younger employee [H = 41.02, df = 3, N = 137, p < .01]. Dunn-Bonferroni post-hoc tests showed that, with regard to the older employee’s approach, the difference was significant between older Chinese and younger Russian participants [p = 0.046, Hedge’s g = -1.036]. Regarding the younger employee’s approach, there were significant differences between older and younger Chinese participants [p < .01, Hedge’s g = -1.278], older Chinese and older Russian participants [p = .001, Hedge’s g = -. 0.994], and older Chinese and younger Russian participants [p < .01, Hedge’s g = – 1.596].

Table 3 shows participants’ coded responses to Scenario 3 (An older employee discovered that a younger employee did something that contradicted company policy). Younger Russians and Chinese participants expect the older employee to adopt an accommodating approach, although expectations of such an approach appear stronger among younger Chinese participants. With regard to the younger employee’s reaction, younger Russian participants seem to expect a more accommodating approach when compared with their Chinese counterparts. Older Chinese participants, meanwhile, expect the younger and older employee to react more confrontationally than all other participants do.

Table 3 Participant responses to Scenario 3

Participants How does the older employee react? How does the younger employee react?
N Mean SD Median N Mean SD Median
Older Russians 35 2.49 1.36 3 35 2.49 .82 3
Younger Russians 32 3.00 1.08 3 32 3.16 .88 3
Older Chinese 35 1.60 1.22 1 35 1.66 1.08 1
Younger Chinese 30 3.40 1.22 4 30 2.67 1.15 3
Total 132 2.88 1.34 4 132 2.47 1.12 3

Note. 1=Confrontational 2=Avoiding 3=Accommodating 4=Problem-solving

Kruskal-Wallis test results indicated that there was a statistically significant difference between the four groups both in terms of how they expected the older employee to react [H = 29.51, df = 3, N = 132, p < .01], as well as the younger employee [H = 30.07, df = 3, N = 132, p < .01]. Dunn-Bonferroni post-hoc tests showed that, with regard to the older employee’s approach, the difference was significant between younger Russian and older Chinese participants [p = 0.003, Hedge’s g = -1.198], older and younger Chinese participants [p < .01, Hedge’s g = -1.458] and older Russians and younger Chinese [p = 0.016, Hedge’s g = -0.693]. Regarding the younger employee’s approach, there was significant difference between older Russian and Chinese participants [p = 0.043, Hedge’s g = -0.856], older and younger Chinese participants [p = 0.003, Hedge’s g = -0.897], older Chinese and younger Russian participants [p < .01, Hedge’s g = -1.498], and older and younger Russian participants [p = 0.038, Hedge’s g = -0.780].

Table 4 shows participants’ coded responses to Scenario 4 (A younger employee discovered that an older employee did something that contradicted company policy). The data shows that older participants, in general, expected the older employee to react more confrontationally than younger participants, and that older Chinese respondents appeared to expect a confrontational approach more so than other groups. Younger participants, both Chinese and Russian, meanwhile, appeared to favor an avoiding approach. In terms of the younger employee’s reaction, younger generational cohorts appeared to prefer an accommodating approach, with older Chinese and Russian participants gravitating more towards an avoiding approach.

Table 4 Participant responses to Scenario 4

Participants How does the older employee react? How does the younger employee react?
N Mean SD Median N Mean SD Median
Older Russians 36 2.31 1.14 2.5 36 2.69 1.26 3
Younger Russians 37 2.30 .97 3 37 2.95 .78 3
Older Chinese 35 1.54 .98 1 35 2.49 1.44 2
Younger Chinese 30 2.53 1.20 2 30 3.13 1.25 4
Total 138 2.16 1.12 2 138 2.80 1.21 3

Note. 1=Confrontational 2=Avoiding 3=Accommodating 4=Problem-solving

Kruskal-Wallis test results indicated that there was a statistically significant difference between the four groups both in terms of how they expected the older employee to react [H = 15.79, df = 3, N = 138, p = .001]. Dunn-Bonferroni post-hoc tests showed that, with regard to the older employee’s approach, the difference was significant between older Chinese and Russian participants [p = 0.021, Hedge’s g = -0.716], younger Russian and older Chinese participants [p = 0.016, Hedge’s g = 0.771], and older and younger Chinese participants [p = 0.002, Hedge’s g = -0.9].

Table 5 shows the coded responses of participants to Scenario 5 (A younger employee is having difficulties dealing with an issue at work and requires assistance from an older employee). The data shows that most participants, with the exception of older Russian participants, expected the older employee to adopt a problem-solving approach to the situation, with the younger employee expected to react in a similarly active problem-solving manner. The results also seem to show that Chinese generational cohorts, on average, adopted a more problem-solving approach in both instances than their Russian counterparts did.

Table 5 Participant responses to Scenario 5

Participants How does the older employee react? How does the younger employee react?
N Mean SD Median N Mean SD Median
Older Russians 36 2.94 .83 3 36 3.03 .38 3
Younger Russians 37 3.62 .68 4 37 3.62 .49 4
Older Chinese 33 3.52 1.06 4 33 3.97 .17 4
Younger Chinese 31 3.48 1.09 4 31 3.90 .30 4
Total 137 3.39 .95 4 137 3.61 .52 4

Note. 1=Confrontational 2=Avoiding 3=Accommodating 4=Problem-solving

Kruskal-Wallis test results indicated that there was a statistically significant difference between the four groups both in terms of how they expected the older employee to react [H = 24.53, df = 3, N = 137, p < .01], as well as the younger employee [H = 72.48, df = 3, N = 137, p < .01]. Dunn-Bonferroni post-hoc tests showed that, with regard to the older employee’s approach, the difference was significant between older Chinese and Russian participants [p < .01, Hedge’s g = 0.606], older and younger Russian [p < .01, Hedge’s g = -0.888], and older Russian and younger Chinese participants [p = 0.001, Hedge’s g = -0.557]. Regarding the younger employee’s approach, the difference was significant between older Chinese and Russian participants [p < .01, Hedge’s g = 3.111], older and younger Russian participants [p < .01, Hedge’s g = -1.329], older Russian and younger Chinese participants [p = 0.001, Hedge’s g = -2.490] and older Chinese and younger Russian participants [p = 0.020, Hedge’s g = 0.923].

Table 6 shows participants’ coded responses for Scenario 6 (An older employee is having difficulties dealing with an issue at work and requires assistance from a younger employee). As can be seen from the data, older Chinese and Russian participants expect the older employee to adopt an approach somewhere between accommodating and avoiding. Younger respondents expect a much more active problem-solving approach. With regard to the younger employee, all generational cohorts, except for perhaps older Russian participants, expect an active problem-solving approach.

Table 6 Participant responses to Scenario 6

Participants How does the older employee react? How does the younger employee react?
N Mean SD Median N Mean SD Median
Older Russians 36 2.64 .64 3 36 2.94 .53 3
Younger Russians 37 3.46 .56 3 37 3.70 .52 4
Older Chinese 35 2.89 1.13 2 35 3.26 1.17 4
Younger Chinese 32 3.50 .98 4 32 3.56 .95 4
Total 140 3.11 .92 3 140 3.36 .87 4

Note. 1=Confrontational 2=Avoiding 3=Accommodating 4=Problem-solving

Kruskal-Wallis test results indicated that there was a statistically significant difference between the four groups both in terms of how they expected the older employee to react [H = 25.93, df = 3, N = 140, p < .01], as well as the younger employee [H = 30.74, df = 3, N = 140, p < .01]. Dunn-Bonferroni post-hoc tests showed that, with regard to the older employee’s approach, the difference was significant between older and younger Russian participants [p < .01, Hedge’s g = -1.350], older and younger Chinese participants [p = .032, Hedge’s g = -0.635], and older Russian and younger Chinese participants [p < .01, Hedge’s g = -1.040]. Regarding the younger employee’s approach, the difference was significant between older Chinese and Russian participants [p = 0.003, Hedge’s g = 0.350], older and younger Russian participants [p < .01, Hedge’s g = -1.432], and older Russian and younger Chinese participants [p < .01, Hedge’s g = -0.810].

5. Discussion & Conclusion

The different situations proved valuable in terms of the nuances they helped reveal about how each generational cohort approached intergenerational interactions at the workplace. The results of the study identified some key patterns that surfaced throughout the questionnaire. Firstly, the findings suggest that there is a generational shift, with older Chinese and Russian participants often leaning towards avoiding intergenerational conflict at work, or approaching it more passively than younger Chinese and Russian. For example, it is clear that when the younger employee is at fault, younger participants would like the older employee to help the younger employee overcome the situation, albeit gently (see Table 1 and 3). The accommodating approach seeks to resolve the conflict, yet it is also less interventionist, suggesting that younger participants, both Chinese and Russian, might look to the older employee to take into consideration the younger employee’s emotional state when handling the issue. The results largely resemble those found in other studies on Millennials and Generation Z, where there is an expectation of almost parental care and attention from older, often more senior, employees (Hershatter & Epstein, 2010; Myers & Sadaghiani, 2010). Older Russian and Chinese participant responses, on the other hand, appeared to oscillate between avoiding (and accommodating to some extent) and confrontational approaches on average, possibly suggesting a preference to either avoid conflict or react aggressively. However, there are also differences between older Chinese and Russian participants. In terms of how older participants perceived the older employee’s reactions to mistakes made by the younger employee, it can be said that older Chinese participants preferred, on average, a more confrontational approach, perhaps due to their belief that the confrontational approach provides the ‘bitter medicine’ that will cure the younger employee’s irresponsibility (Zhang, et al., 2005). Older Russian participants were more likely to adopt an avoiding or accommodative approach, suggesting that they perhaps were not very keen on a possibly more active role in resolving the issue. This might be due to what Kravchuk & Shkarina (2007) describe as a mix of fear and annoyance on the part of older Russian generations towards younger generations.

The differences between older and younger generations becomes quite stark in scenarios where the older employee is shown in a compromised situation vis-a-vis the younger employee, e.g. when committing a serious mistake, breaking company rules or facing the possibility of a rebuff. In this regard, younger Chinese and Russian participants were much more likely to adopt an accommodating or problem-solving approach, while older Chinese and Russian participants appeared to gravitate, on average, towards an avoiding approach or even confrontational approach (see Tables 2 and 4). This suggests that older participants perceive the older employee as enjoying a certain level of immunity from criticism vis-a-vis the younger employee due to age considerations, something that has been alluded to by (Smol’kin, 2011). This perhaps indicates that older participants believe in and tend to reinforce an age-based hierarchy, much more so than younger participants, who tend to view younger and older employees on a more equal footing. These findings are corroborated by several other studies where it was found that younger generations strive for greater equality of status with older generations (Zhang, 2004; Wang, 2006), and that they tend to reject the notion of a hierarchy purely founded on an old-young dichotomy (Starchikova, 2012). In addition, it is worth noting that older Chinese respondents generally gravitated more towards a confrontational approach than older Russian respondents in such scenarios, likely indicating that concepts of social hierarchy and filial piety are much more strenuously upheld among older Chinese generations.

Finally, the findings suggest that younger generations from China and Russia have similar approaches to managing conflict, and this is evident in almost all scenarios. This likely suggests that globalization, and increasing cultural and economic exchanges between China, Russia and the rest of the world, have possibly led to the creation of younger Russian and Chinese generations with many shared characteristics. Indeed, studies from both the Russian and Chinese contexts have shown that younger generations in both countries seek greater equality vis-a-vis power dynamics with older generations (Starchikova, 2012; Ma, et al., 2016). This meshes quite well with findings from studies on younger generations in other geographic settings, notably the West (Bencsik, et al., 2016), likely indicating that a common worldview has slowly replaced, to some extent, cultural differences, at least with regard to younger generations globally.

In concluding, the results of the study show that while there are differences between older and younger Chinese and Russian generations, these differences are much starker between older and younger Chinese individuals, suggesting that the possibilities of workplace conflicts are greater in companies with intergenerational, likely multicultural workforces, that choose to employ older Chinese workers. These companies will likely need to implement some degree of cultural sensitivity training or workshops that could mitigate the possibility of workplace conflicts. Of course, based on the findings, hiring Russian and Chinese employees from younger generations should most likely lead to fewer instances of significant conflict or tensions, since they tend to adopt similar approaches and have similar expectations of each other and older employees. It is hoped that this study will serve as a springboard for further research on intergenerational interactions that involve a multicultural setting, especially on intercultural and intergenerational interactions as they concern workplaces in China and Russia.  Indeed, more qualitative and quantitative research is needed in this regard in order to better gauge the desires, expectations and characteristics of different generations as they relate to teach other as both Russia and China continue to not only enhance their cultural and economic ties, but work towards deeper integration on a number of levels.

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