How to Manage 5 Generations of Workers

How to Manage 5 Generations of Workers


For the first time in history, the workforce spans an incredible five generations: Traditionalists (born prior to 1946); Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964); Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1976); Millennials (born between 1977 and 1997); and the newly minted Gen 2020 (born after 1997). This unprecedented situation is providing plenty of food for thought for employers and HR professionals who are attempting to find the most effective ways of keeping a multigenerational workplace balanced and productive.

If your organization is currently facing the challenge of how best to manage five generations’ worth of employees, these tips can help:

1.  Move beyond the differences.

office workers
Image courtesy ILO Asia/Pacific | Flickr

One of your biggest tasks as an HR manager in a multigenerational workplace is to help your organization’s employees look past generational stereotypes and labels. Remember that each worker, regardless of which generation they belong to, is an individual with distinctive skills and values, not all of which are necessarily shared by members of the same generation.

For this reason, it’s important not to dwell on differences, or to allow group discussions to devolve into comments like “All Boomers are like this,” or “This is what people my age think.” Get to know each employee on an individual level, setting the example for their colleagues to do the same. Likewise, don’t be deceived into thinking that some character or personality challenges, like lack of motivation, are simply inherent characteristics of a particular generation. There should be no need to make allowances or give special treatment on a purely generational basis.

2. Study your employees.

As well as getting to know workers individually, it can be helpful to conduct a more formal study of your current workforce, as well as research into the projected demographics of your future workforce, in order to determine what employees are looking for from their jobs. Add new questions, such as inquiries about planned professional paths or preferred communication style, to annual worker surveys to get a critical look at your organization’s human resources strategy. It’s important to figure out what things matter to different groups of employees, and what techniques you can use to attract and retain either younger workers or more experienced workers. Essentially, surveys and research are an easy and effective way to take the temperature of generational career issues within your company.

3. Create cross-generational mentoring opportunities.

Mentoring programs are an excellent opportunity for organizations to foster a spirit of collaboration, rather than competitiveness, in a workplace, particularly when each person has something different to offer the other. So-called “reciprocal” mentoring programs, which match younger workers with their more experienced colleagues, are becoming increasingly popular in multigenerational offices.

Image courtesy Cramo Group | Flickr

Typically, the younger employee will share knowledge about technology in the workplace, such as the effectiveness of social media in creating a strong brand, while the more experienced worker shares institutional knowledge and expertise, like the history of a long-term client, gained from their more extensive service with the company. The key is to honor each person’s contribution equally and help both sides of the mentorship see the value in each other’s knowledge and skills.

If more formal mentoring programs are not feasible in your organization, mixed-age work teams are a helpful way to launch more casual mentoring relationships. Studies have shown that colleagues learn more from each other than they do in formal training environments, and mixed-age teams help establish a culture of coaching and allow mentoring relationships to develop more organically.

4. Determine appropriate incentives.

Inspiring and incentivizing employees can be a significant challenge for managers of a multigenerational workplace. It may seem obvious, but it’s important to remember that not all employees are motivated by the same things. For instance, younger employees typically have fewer obligations than older employees, and tend to be more motivated by new opportunities and experiences that help them grow their skills.

Mid-career employees more often have significant financial responsibilities, like children or mortgages, and may value financial incentives more than other generations. While workers at the end of their careers are not as likely to be interested in skill development opportunities, they may be looking for a better work-life balance as they make the transition to retirement.

This question of motivation also applies to dividing up assignments and work tasks: a Gen Xer may value the autonomy of completing a task independently, while a Millennial may prefer to share ideas and work together with a creative team to finish a project. Assessing employees’ individual needs in order to determine how best to inspire them may be more labor-intensive task than one-size-fits-all routines or rewards programs, but in today’s diverse workplaces, this task is vital to ensuring a happy and productive workforce.


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