How to Manage Generational Differences in the Workplace

How to Manage Generational Differences in the Workplace

For the first time in history, four distinct generations are working along with each other in the workforce. Baby boomers, Generation X, Generation Y/ millennial, Generation Z/ Gen 2020. If you include the traditionalist, there are 5 generations actively working in the workforce.

Each of these generations has different patterns of personality traits and work styles. The difference in character and work styles can be attributed to major social, historical, and cultural fluctuations that characterize their childhood and adolescence. The stages of life are not the only factors affecting goals and desires in the workplace. How lifetime employment ends also affects all workers. The days when an employee is highly compensated for long-term services are long gone. Gen X and Boomers came into the workforce when promises of long-term employment were still generous. Meanwhile, millennials entered the workforce during the hiring freezes of the great recession. Their loyalty is two-faced. They understand that the growth of the company is important, but they are ready to move to another company during bad times.

By understanding and honoring the differences between these generations, employers can shape their management styles to accommodate the different characteristics of each generation. When handling a multigenerational workforce, it is necessary to find out the various work styles and communicate through a variety of channels. Younger employees may prefer to receive information via digital means, while employees from other generations are accustomed to printed materials. Managing such an age-diverse workforce is certainly not without its challenges. There are many benefits to employing employees from multiple generations. To take full advantage of these benefits, it is important to understand the common issues employers face, as well as the best ways to discuss them. But before diving into the issues faced by employers in a multigenerational workforce, it is crucial to understand each generation’s distinct traits and histories.

THE TRADITIONALISTS: Sweat, determination, and hard work.

This group was born between the early 1920s and the mid-1940s. They were born during a difficult era to parents who lived through the great depression. The traditionalists came of age during the war and are heavily influenced by their military backgrounds. They strongly believe in sacrifice, loyalty, discipline, respect for authority, and hard work. They prefer a linear work style and tasks with clearly defined parameters. Although most of the traditionalists retired years ago, some are returning to the workforce as mentors with a vast wealth of knowledge and experience.

BABY BOOMERS: work hard, play hard

The baby boomers take their name from the surge in births from the mid-1940s and the mid-1960s. They came to age during a period of extreme social and cultural upheaval. The baby boomers are well-known for their optimism, ambitiousness, and live-to-work attitude. They prefer jobs that offer personal gratification, financial growth, flexible retirement plans, and upward mobility. They do better when motivated by exciting projects, benefits, promotions, and competitive salaries.


They were born between the early 1960s to the early 1980s. Just like the boomers, they grew up during a time of extreme cultural shifts. Many children from generation X grew in single-parent homes or families with two working parents. This negligence made them self-reliant at a young age. They were given the name cool slackers because of their easy and more relaxed approach to work. Gen Xers are known for being skeptical and suspicious. Because of their strong sense of independence, they easily adapt to the work environment and need little direction to carry out tasks.


They represent those that were born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s. Unlike their predecessors, millennials grew up in an era where parents focused on their children. They had a sheltered upbringing, and this earned them the nickname “snowflakes”. Millennials are highly educated and technologically savvy. They are innovative, and flexible and thrive in environments that are positive and reward excellence.


This generation is the youngest in the current workforce. They grew up in a completely wireless era, often called true digital natives. They are the most technologically savvy group. Similar to the millennials, the Gen Z-ers are creative, flexible, and self-reliant, but they tend to be more cautious and concerned with career stability. They are multitaskers but are easily distracted.


How to manage generational differences in the workplace

Regardless of generation, every employee excels in an environment they experience great job satisfaction. Even though there is no general solution for managing a multigenerational team, the following guide will help you tailor your management strategies to fit within their varying lifestyle.

1)        Leverage the knowledge of senior staff or older generations while training

As mentioned earlier, some traditionalists are coming back into the workforce as mentors. A good manager would take advantage of this opportunity and include the older employees during the training of younger generations. This can be achieved by initiating mentoring and coaching programs within the workplace. Mentoring programs will not only be a source of passing down information and practices from one generation to another but also a means for employees in different generations to mix up and get to know each other on a personal and social level.

2)        Restructure your recruiting strategies

While recruiting candidates from diverse generations, managers need to be extremely careful about using age-discriminating words. The message should be appealing to different candidates. Managers should make sure vacancy notice is distributed through various channels to ensure maximum visibility. The baby boomers can be connected via professional networks or referrals, while Generation Z can be connected through online campaigns or social media. The form of recruitment should also be different. A recruiter cannot give a digital exam to a baby boomer accustomed to paper examinations.

3)        Do not make age-based assumptions

Even though every generation is known for certain qualities, avoid the general assumption that a particular employee might like or dislike a certain activity because he is from a particular generation. To take full advantage of a multigenerational team, talk to each employee to find out their individual preferences and work styles. For instance, a manager might leave out older employees in technological training based on the common prejudice that old employees find technology stressful.

4)        Understand the type of compensation package for each employee.

The phase of life an individual is in can influence his wants and needs. An older employee will be more interested in healthcare and retirement benefits. A younger employee might be focused on salary, sponsored certifications, and training. An employee with children or elderly ones to care for will be more interested in healthcare coverage, and flexible workforce arrangements that will give them a perfect work-life balance. The first step is to identify the needs of different employees at different phases of life. After the first step, the next step is to set out benefits that will address those needs. The last step is to communicate such benefits to them. The communication stage is crucial because a manager might have identified the needs and set up benefits, but without letting the employees know that these benefits are available to them, they will be in the dark. A manager can easily use employee demographics to guide benefits investments. Think about who your employees are and what benefits will be more beneficial to them. For example, an on-site daycare facility can offer great value to employees with children to take care of. Instead of juggling between school and office to attend to their children, they can easily reach them within the premises.

5)        Include your employees while making decisions.

Instead of making age-based assumptions while not listen to your employee’s opinions. This is of importance when making decisions that will directly or indirectly affect them. Take a step back and make inquiries to ascertain the right working tools for every employee. An employee is more productive in an environment he derives maximum satisfaction from. Oftentimes, employees underestimate the value and worth of employees. No company can thrive without the right workforce. On the other hand, having the right workforce and not managing them right will yield a similar result.

6)        Encourage feedback

One way to overcome generational barriers is by asking employees for their feedback. This particular act makes employees feel among. The employee feels as if he had a say in what is going on in the team and that his inputs are valued. Every employee should be given a chance to speak and contribute to office matters.

7)        Create an age-diverse team for projects

By assembling employees from different age groups to form teams for projects, you will not only leverage the unique strengths of each generation but also urge collaboration between them. Each generation will have invaluable ideas or experiences to bring to the table.

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