5 ways to successfully manage a multi-generational workforce

Jess Fuhl
Published on 28th November 2019
3 min read

How do you manage a multi-generational workforce?

With employees increasingly working well beyond 70 and school leavers entering the workforce, companies are facing a new challenge – how to manage five generations of workers, with very different characteristics.

For the first time, in one workplace we have:

  • Traditionalists who might have climbed the corporate ladder in the same organization for their entire career
  • Baby Boomers for whom the term “Workaholics” was coined
  • Generation X, known for being independent, and skeptical
  • Millennials, or Generation Y, who are hungry for new experiences, thrive on teamwork and need regular feedback
  • Generation Z, the true digital natives

It is not hard to see how managers may find themselves having to grapple with generational differences.

In fact, our research from 500+ HR leaders shows that the most challenging generations to manage are the Baby Boomers and Generation Y. Problems may arise from different styles in mindset and communications resulting in generational tension or disrespect.

HR and People teams need to be aware of this and learn how to bridge the generational gap, encouraging staff to work well together.

So how do HR teams help workers within the business to bridge the generational gap?

1. Study your demographics

It is crucial that HR and People teams understand the demographics within the organization. Make use of data and analytics to gauge insight from your workforce, and understand how your workforce is split, and identify trends within this.

In fact, over a third (34%) of HR leaders are now hiring People Scientists to improve their visibility and understanding of their workforce, according to our research.

If your company runs regular pulse surveys and continuous employee feedback, add in questions to find out what their preferred methods of communication are, or what they envisage their career trajectory being in the company.

This will help you understand your employees better and, in turn, enable you to provide training for your managers so they can learn to recognize generational differences and adapt. It’s important that managers change rather than trying to change their staff.

2. Don’t play up to the stereotypes

Whatever their differences, it is crucially important that companies do not play up to the stereotypes. Younger employees might think that the older generations are inflexible technophobes, whilst the older generations might perceive Generations Y and Z as spoilt, job-hopping kids, surgically attached to their smartphones.

These stereotypes are little more than sweeping generalizations and are not conducive to helping people to work together.

Stress the importance to managers of moving beyond labels. Ask them not to assume people need special treatment and don’t focus on the differences – just get to know each person individually.

Mixed aged teams bring a wealth of opportunity to any business  – fresh thinking coupled with experience can produce highly effective teams and work.

3. Encourage collaborative working

Traditionalists and Baby Boomers take instruction from above and manage those below, Generation X like to make their own imprint on their work and are pretty self-sufficient, whereas Generation Y and Z, whilst being extremely ambitious, need regular feedback from their managers and like to work in teams.

It doesn’t mean that these generations are incompatible. On the contrary, they have much to learn from each other and to offer each other.

By shifting the collective mindset at work so that the different generations see each other as partners rather than subjects of a rigid hierarchical system, then they can all benefit from new ideas coupled with experience and wisdom.

4. Enable cross-generational mentoring

Create a reciprocal mentoring program where younger employees can teach older ones how to use social media to drive business results, and older generations can provide mentoring regarding interpersonal skills and communication.

Generation Z are praised for their mastering of all things digital, but many lack the social skills needed to build relationships with business partners internally and externally.

In addition, the more experienced employee can also share institutional knowledge with the younger worker.

5. Accommodate personal needs and aspirations

Workers of different generations are at different stages of their lives and want different things from their careers. HR and People teams should empathize with this and accommodate employees where possible.

The focus here should be on the results employees produce rather than how they get there. If by making changes to accommodate a worker’s needs, they produce better results, without negatively affecting anyone else, then that is a positive.

For example Generation Z want to travel globally for work; Generation Y crave learning and diverse opportunities; Generation X often have mortgages and families so value flexibility, money and advancement; and the Traditionalists and Boomers might be thinking of retirement, so whilst they still want interesting work, they are not likely to seek new experiences or rigorous training.

In addition, HR teams can adapt approaches to things such as recruitment, to better meet the needs of each generation. Using engaging digital-first approaches to targeting younger generations, for example, will ensure a higher proportion of candidates with skills in this area.

Flexibility is key

Ultimately, HR managers need to be flexible to the needs of the different generations.

The most important consideration when managing five generations is to give them all an equal voice. Regardless of age or tenure, all employees should be listened to equally.

Only then can HR and People teams truly understand how to keep their workforce engaged. Don’t segregate the generations by creating generation-based employee affinity groups or slap on labels that might not apply to the individual at all. On the contrary, mix up your teams.

Research shows that companies with a diverse workforce perform better. Is your company addressing the needs of a workforce from 17 to 70?

Find out more about meeting the challenges and opportunities of today’s multi-generational workforce. Read our recent research report, ’17-70’

Get the research

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