How to Manage a Multigenerational Workforce

How to Manage a Multigenerational Workforce

By Gretchen Hyman, contributor of the Underground Group
8-minute read

In short:

  • The demographics of today’s workforce mean that managers often oversee teams with members from as many as four different generations.

  • Each generation brings unique strengths and potential pitfalls to the office.

  • When managers tailor their leadership style accordingly, they can steer their multigenerational teams to maximum productivity.


A multigenerational workforce has become the norm for many managers, who are tasked with overseeing and motivating team members from a diverse range of age groups. Today’s workplaces often accommodate as many as four different generational subsets, each with its own communication style, level of technology knowledge and other contrasting -- sometimes even conflicting -- age-related characteristics.  

Businesses large and small are challenged with shifting their attitudes, work cultures and management styles to accommodate the significant differences that each generational group brings to the office every morning.

Three experienced managers shared with Grow Wire how they lead the various generations in their workforces. Below, we detail each generation and how to manage its members best, no matter which generation you belong to yourself. Then, the experts deliver advice on how to bring all age groups together for the benefit of your business.


Generation Z (ages 9-24)  

Born between 1995 and 2010, Gen Z is the first truly digital native generation to bring “hyper-cognitive” digital skills to the job market. 


💪 Strengths:
Gen Z’s unique predisposition to processing large amounts of digital data and experiences and toggling between online and offline worlds gives its members entrepreneurial spirit. Gen Z-ers are 55% more likely to want to start a business than the previous generation, according to research from staffing agency Accounting Principals.

Generation Z workers are considered more independent and competitive than millennial ones, according to Forbes. In general, Gen Z workers understand the value of hard work and maintaining skills that are relevant to their roles.

🤔 Traits to be aware of:
Gen Z-ers expect to be rewarded for their loyalty, and as survivors of the recent Recession, they want to make sure they never experience the financial anxiety their parents did.

The average Gen Z-er also tends to multitask across at least five different screens per day, so distraction can be a real challenge.

“Younger generations are used to individual communication through text and social [media], and they’re not always prepared to deal with face-to-face situations in the workplace that can sometimes be challenging,” said Mark Power, founder and CEO of Podean, a marketing agency and managed service provider focused on online marketplaces.

Power, who has mentored every age group during his years as an agency head, has no doubt Gen Z will end up “smarter” than any generation preceding it because of its access to unprecedented volumes of information. But, he said, he wonders about the challenges this digitally-consumed generation faces when dealing with direct human interaction.

“Instead of seeing things through when [Gen Z-ers] come up against conflict, suddenly they’re looking for another job,” Power said. “They need to regroup around loyalty and learn to communicate better when they face challenges. Embracing adversity and confrontation is the only way to succeed in business.”

⭐️ How to manage them well: 
To give this generation a leg up, Power suggested managers invest in their Gen Z staff by providing adversity and communication training. Working through a curriculum of conflict training modules throughout the calendar year steadily improves a team’s ability to talk and reason together, he said. (Both universities and corporate learning companies offer courses like these, some for individuals and others for teams.) And in the long run, it deepens the team’s commitment to each other and the business.

Leaders and managers should also ensure that the working environment facilitates open and transparent communication at all times, Power added. This can help Gen Z-ers tackle conflict and find balance between their digital and work lives.


Millennials (ages 24-38)

Also known as Generation Y, those in the millennial generation were born between 1981 and 1995, and they now represent 35% of the American labor force.

Despite the common catch-all that millennials are “ultra-sensitive,” “pampered” or “self-entitled,” the millennial generation is one of the most well-educated and racially- and ethnically-diverse in American history, according to Brookings. As older millennials are just now reaching their mid- and upper-30s, they are primed for upper management and executive positions.


💪 Strengths: 
Millennials look to their employers for empowerment and corporate responsibility to sustain their loyalty. In return, they bring passion, intelligence, tech savvy and an innately collaborative approach to their jobs. As their power and numbers increase, they are often credited with being the architects of the modern workplace. 


🤔 Traits to be aware of: 
Millennials occasionally value building relationships with their managers more than driving positive business outcomes, said Denise Zimmerman, a business growth strategist at Philadelphia-based Pavone Marketing Group.

“There’s an elevated level of entitlement that challenges businesses to keep this generation happy while driving positive economic results,” she said. “The focus on ‘me’ is partly or even mostly attributable to technology empowerment.”

Technology could also be the influence behind millennials’ love of instant gratification and recognition. Nearly seven out of 10 millennial employees believe the annual performance review process is flawed. Additionally, 74% of millennial employees feel “in the dark” about how well they’re performing.

Millennials also tend to need more specific direction and clarity in their roles than other age groups, Zimmerman added, and folks in this generation are not shy about admitting this, either.

“One of the most successful young professionals I’ve worked with was relentlessly asking for goals, feedback and direction,” Zimmerman said. “He was more proactive than most, but this was truly reflective of this generation in general. They are very self-aware.”

⭐️ How to manage them well: 
Millennials respond well to managers who show them respect, according to Monica Skikos, a human resources consultant who has worked with many managers in challenging workplace scenarios.

“Millennials don’t have the same perspective of authority that other generations have,” she said. “It’s more about you as a manager needing to prove yourself to them, not the other way around. You have to work hard to show your value and merit to earn their trust.”

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Generation X (ages 39-54)

Often referred to as “the lost generation,” Gen X-ers were born between 1965 and 1980 and straddle the boomer and millennial generations. They have often been associated with a lack of identity, which manifests in the workplace as “sticking it out,” whether or not that corporate loyalty leads to personal happiness. 

While roughly 65 million Americans belong to Generation X, the generation somehow faded into “middle child” obscurity against the flashier and more demanding millennial generation and the boomers who perceive work through the post-war lens of something “needed rather than wanted.”


💪 Strengths:

Because many Gen X-ers grew up in working families -- regardless of their  socioeconomic backgrounds -- they developed a tendency toward self-reliance, resourcefulness and a similar work ethic to that of their boomer peers. They take their careers very seriously and bring a high level of creativity and independence to their jobs.
 
🤔 Traits to be aware of: 

In general, Gen X-ers are watching company performance, and this impacts their loyalty. In a survey from global consulting firm Korn Ferry, almost half of Gen X respondents said they felt that making an impact on the business they work for is important. When asked what makes them choose one company over another, 31% of Gen X employees equated job loyalty with the reputation and vision of their employer.

⭐️ How to manage them well:

Because many Gen-Xers tend to be levelheaded and practical by nature, they enjoy being able to get their work done without much managerial oversight. They appreciate open communication and direction, yearly reviews and feedback, but they don’t like to be micromanaged. This generation is well-suited for management, leadership or mentorship roles because of its ability to communicate effectively and empathetically with not only boomers but also younger generations. 


Baby Boomers (ages 55-73)

Baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1964. Two-thirds of them are now retired, leaving 44.4 million still in the workforce. 

While younger generations tend to focus on how the workplace can serve them and whether their manager is worthy of their loyalty, boomers take pride in hard work, value the traditional employee-manager dynamic and often prefer to deliver results rather than get caught up questioning leadership’s motivation.


💪 Strengths:

Boomers have a reputation for trumping all other generations in work ethic, and they tend to have long-time employment records despite the economic obstacles their generation faced. 

“Baby boomers believed that hard work and doing the right thing would bring success,” Zimmerman said. 

They also bring a plentiful life and career insights to their jobs and can provide a positive sounding board for younger employees, who often tend to think alike. While many boomers are receding from the modern workplace, companies that value them have a winning formula, Zimmerman added.


🤔 Traits to be aware of:

One of the biggest challenges facing boomers is their general lack of sophisticated tech skills, which can sometimes cause conflict with coworkers and extra work for managers. 


⭐️ How to manage them well:

Don’t be afraid to flex your authority, and show appreciation when baby boomers use their can-do attitude to produce results.

“[Boomers] respect authority,” Skikos said. “You can give them a directive, and they just get it done, and they don’t need to understand its significance, unlike many younger generations who need to know why, what the context is and why it matters to them.”

Bringing it all together: how to manage multigenerational teams

A team that tactfully applies the range of experience and intelligence of its members is an extremely powerful business asset, according to Zimmerman.

“Business decision-makers often value the seasoned expertise and perspective of an older executive who is digitally-savvy and yet also value the relevant experience of those who may be more digital-born,” she said.


Social activities

To unify a multigenerational team, Zimmerman recommends running workplace workshops focused on problem-solving and planning regular social outings.

For example, Zimmerman founded the Supper Club, which combines a social dinner with focused, collaborative discussions among professionals from a broad range of backgrounds. Invitees range in roles from startup founders to chief marketing officers and in age from 19 to 65. While the Supper Club brings together professionals from various companies, the event could easily be replicated in a multigenerational team. Its social dynamism is palpable, Zimmerman said. 

“Age totally disappears, and the sharing, learning and connections are incredible,” she added.

Supporting each generation

Today’s workplace culture requires managers to support generations individually, Skikos said.

“You really need to focus your management style on what works for different people,” she added. “It no longer works to have a certain one-size-fits-all approach. It just puts people in a box, and no one likes that feeling.”

To get the best performance from all team members, managers need to remember that each age group tends to assimilate information and cultivate motivation differently. Use generation-specific management strategies to allow each generation autonomy without overindulging one and alienating another.

Supporting each individual

Beyond supporting each generation, Skikos said she believes the main way to facilitate bonding and focus within a team is to identify and empower each employee’s individual gifts and specialties. Generational norms are just that: norms. Individual personality types are perhaps more relevant to each employee’s performance, so pay attention to those too.

And overall, remember that each generation brings strengths to your team. 

“No one is any less valuable,” Skikos said. “Treat everyone on your team with respect, and remove prejudice for the greater good of the team.”