The impact of different generations in the workplace

Social Media GenerationIn many organisations there are now four generations working alongside each other: Generation Y (born 1980-1994), Generation X (1965-1980), Baby Boomers (1946-1964), and Traditionalists (born before 1945). And a new one Generation Z (born since 1995) is just about to enter the workplace. As a result HR professionals and managers face a real challenge to motivate and engage an increasingly diverse multi-generational workforce.


The different generations

What do we mean when we’re talking about generations in the workplace? Here’s an overview:

Traditionalists are mostly retired now. However, with improving health, reducing pensions and growing expectation that people will retire later, this profile of employees will need to be represented in the workplace as retirement age is pushed back to 67 and beyond. Organisations will likely see continued touchpoints with this age group for years to come. Traditionalists tend to have wartime values, work hard and expect recognition for their loyalty.

Baby Boomers prioritise work within the work/life balance and have accepted the need to work long hours and sometimes have stressful working lives. They prefer a structured work environment and have a strong sense of fairness around rewards for effort and time.

Generation X is now at a managerial level and they have driven a shift from the Baby Boomer work ethic and embraced the idea of a healthy work/life balance. They prefer to work independently and thrive on opportunities to grow.

Generation Y was the first generation to be technologically savvy and has a strong desire for recognition. Unlike previous generations, they thrive on having continuous short-term goals and receiving praise for success. Many will sell their skills to the highest bidder and they are happy to change employer as they establish their career.

Generation Z is just coming of age and entering the workplace. This generation of employees are the true digital natives, born after the birth of the Internet and raised in an age of social media and always-on mobile communication.


Talking about my generation
Talking about my generation If you want to know more about the different generations check out our four-part series on what makes the individual generations tick:

How to manage different generations in the workplace

It can be a struggle to get multi-generational workforces to work well together and be productive, with many barriers to success. For example:

  • Older generations may prefer face-to-face meetings or phone calls while younger generations prefer digital and virtual forms of communication.
  • Older generations are used to annual reviews, and, therefore, less feedback, while younger generations want constant feedback and recognition.
  • Younger generations can be dismissive of older employees’ experience while older generations can be dismissive of younger employees’ abilities.
  •  Younger generations tend to have a ‘just to it’ attitude while older generations prefer to evaluate and consider first.

HR professionals and managers need to help their employees bridge the generation gaps. Communication is key here because conflict between the different generations often occurs when perceptions, whether real or imagined, differ. Therefore, it’s imperative that employees are treated as individuals, rather than pigeonholed into stereotypes, and that HR professionals and managers are flexible in their communication styles so that they can reach all their employees.

Here are some more tips to help you manage the different generations in the workplace:


1. Don’t dwell on the differences

Rather than dwell on the differences, find the similarities between your employees. For example, everyone wants to be treated with respect and likes feedback so that they know how they are doing and how they can improve. Furthermore, embrace the differences. Different generations bring different perspectives to the job and the organisation that can lead to new ways of doing things and innovation.


2. Build collaborative relationships

CollaborationA collaborative approach works well when managing employees of different generations. Create discussions and projects where the older generations can share their expertise and knowledge but where younger generations are taken just as seriously and their ideas and perspective is listened to. Create a sense of teamwork that spans the generations.


3. Get to know your employees

Get to know your employees as individuals. Talk to them about what they want out of their jobs and lives, preferred communication styles, values and ambitions. Use that information to figure out what matters to your employees and what you can do to help them and engage them.


4. Create reciprocal mentoring programmes

Mentoring programmes usually involve older employees mentoring new employees, but reciprocal or reverse mentoring programmes where the younger employee is the mentor can also work, for example teaching older generations about social media for business. People learn more from each other than from formal training courses so use your employees’ knowledge and abilities to your advantage.


5. Consider life cycles

When it comes to offering employee benefits, incentives and rewards you need to offer a range that covers every employees’ current life styles. Younger employees will have fewer commitments so tend to be motivated by experiences. Older generations may be thinking about work-life balance while those in the middle may have a family and a mortgage so benefits and rewards that help them save money will motivate them.


6. Recognise employees

All generations need recognition and to feel valued for their contribution. But with a multi-generational workforce you need to tailor your programme to suit the needs of different generations. This should include considering the rewards on offer but also how you set up and deliver the programme: peer to peer recognition programmes allow employees to recognise and reward their co-workers and so builds team spirit and cohesiveness.



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John Sylvester

John is responsible for the motivation division of p&mm ltd and a Director on the board of the IPM. Specialising in developing, implementing and directing many large scale staff motivation, recognition and employee communications programmes.
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