How to Lead a Multigenerational Workforce

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Approx. 4 min. read
Last updated: June 5, 2018

The modern workplace is navigating unprecedented waters. More generations are working under the same roof than ever before.

This mix of generations is not without its problems. Nearly 60 percent of employers say they are experiencing intergenerational conflict. Conflicts commonly arise around communication, adapting to change, and cross-departmental collaboration. The key to overcoming difficulties and leading such a diverse workforce is to understand employees from different generations and find out how different needs can be met.

Three Generations in One Workplace

With baby boomers retiring later in life and the fast-growing millennial generation flooding the job market, the average workplace now spans three generations ranging in age from 20 to 70. To successfully manage and motivate employees from different generations, you first need to understand them.

Baby Boomers (1946-1964)

The baby boomers are the post-war generation. Because boomers are postponing retirement, they still make up a significant portion of the workforce today. They are hard-working and willing to sacrifice personal time for work. Boomers are loyal employees who value security, comfort, and familiar environments. While they have incorporated technology into their lives, they still prefer face-to-face communication and many don't see much value in being active on platforms such as social media.

Generation X (1965-1981)

Generation X is more highly educated than previous generations. Gen Xers are responsible, diligent, competent, and fiercely independent. They dislike being micromanaged. They'll tolerate rules as long as they're allowed their own space. Xers adopted a "work hard, play hard" philosophy and also moved away from the "job for life" mentality. They value merit-based rather than seniority rewards. They are the first generation to become computer literate.

Millennials (1982-2004)

The youngest and fastest growing generation range in age from teen to mid-thirties. They're the most tech-savvy generation and spearheaded the digital revolution. Millennials challenge the conventional nine-to-five work system. They prefer a flextime, part-time, or remote working model. They're optimistic, ferocious achievers, team-oriented, and global-centric. They value regular feedback and recognition. Millennials now make up the largest part of the labor force in the United States.

Working with multigenerational employees

Challenges in a Multigenerational Workforce

Managing a multigenerational workforce is challenging. Every generation comes with its own values, perceptions, mindset, and approaches to work. This can lead to frustration, conflict, misunderstandings, and low morale.

Baby boomers are ambitious and driven, Generation X strives to keep a work/life balance, and millennials value freedom and flexibility. They all have a strong work ethic but often do not see it in each other simply because each generation has a different approach.

A lot of the tension occurs between the boomers and millennials. Boomers believe in working hard and "earning your stripes". They often view the younger generation as being spoiled and lazy. Many still believe in the traditional nine-to-five and struggle to accept the flexible approach that millennials embrace.

Boomers favor a hierarchical structure that rattles millennials who thrive best in a flat, collaborative environment. Millennials tend to challenge authority and norms that can lead to conflict with the older generation. The middle group, Generation X, are quietly getting on with it. They are adaptable and transitioned easily to new technology and the changing work landscape.

Connecting the Generations

The multigenerational workplace is going to be around for at least another 15 to 20 years until all boomers exit the workforce. This means organizations have to address generational issues. Here are a few ways to foster harmony in such a diverse workplace:

1. Talk About It

Create a space for employees to express their feelings and frustrations. This could be through ongoing HR awareness, mentoring and training programs; quarterly or annual organizational "health checks;" or a retreat away from the office. The more staff talk, the more it dispels stereotypes, encourages respect for one another, and helps bridge the generational gap.

2. Build on Common Ground

Despite glaring differences, all three generations share similar goals and expectations. A 2015 survey by The IBM Institute for Business Value revealed that all generations seek financial security, career growth, meaningful work, and have a social conscience. These are all a great starting point to unite, engage, and nurture all three generations.

3. Value Everyone’s Contributions

Employees of all ages want to feel valued. Create an inclusive environment that takes everyone's ideas, opinions, and contributions into account. Build project teams that include all generations to strengthen teamwork and cross-organizational relationships. This will motivate staff, resulting in an engaged, productive and happy workforce.

4. Cultivate a Knowledge Sharing Culture

Older and long-serving employees have a wealth of experience and institutional memory while younger employees bring a fresh perspective and innovative ideas. Together they can take your organization to new heights. One way to achieve this is through creating a knowledge sharing culture. Make this easy for staff by providing tools and technology to share information, news, and trends, and establish forums that encourage enthusiastic discussion. A knowledge sharing culture should be part of the organization's values and integrated into working methods.

We're in an exciting period in the workplace. Different generations working side by side makes for a dynamic and robust environment. Organizations can tap into an abundance of skills, knowledge, experience, talent, and creativity. Acknowledge the differences, champion the similarities, and build on the strengths of each generation.

To read more about creating a knowledge sharing culture, check out our free guide below!

Free Guide - Organizational Knowledge Sharing 101: How to get Started