Managing a Multigenerational Workforce

PhonesIs your team firing on all cylinders?

If you are managing a multigenerational workforce, odds are they may not be.

According to a study cited in the Journal of Business and Economic Research, 51% of Baby Boomers said they had little or no interaction with the Millennial Generation.

In addition, 67% of Generation X and 71% of Millennial said they rarely interacted with the oldest members of the workforce team.

Regardless of employee or employer, each person brings a perspective to the organization based upon his or her generational subculture.

Just as the leader needs to understand these perspectives, so too does the employee.

Below are listed shared perspectives from the three generational groups as identified in a report by A.J. Nicholas, Generational Perspectives: Workers and Consumers.



Born 1981-1990

Generation X

Born 1965-1980

Baby Boomer

Born 1946-1964

Outlook Hopeful Skeptical Optimistic
Work Ethic Ambitious Balanced Driven
View of Authority Relaxed / Polite Unimpressed Love/Hate
Leadership By Teamwork Competence Consensus
Relationship Loyal/Inclusive Reluctant Personal
Perspective Civic Minded Self-Reliant Team Oriented
Turn-offs Condescension Clichés/Hype Political Incorrectness

Although we need to be careful not to stereotype or judge, the table above provides us a tool to understand how workers from different generations may perceive events or stimuli differently.

Each generation brings a unique set of values to the workplace based upon the era he or she was raised in.

Not only may these values conflict across generational groups, they may conflict between employee and employer.

Let me share an example:

Whereas some members from the Millennial group may seek ongoing feedback, other members from the Baby Boomer generation could very well be comfortable with delayed recognition and reward.

A Baby Boomer manager leading a team of Millennial could possibly be alienating the team without even knowing.

Just as each generation values job attributes differently, each also brings a unique perspective to his or her work.

For example, an organization going through tough economic times may have three employees doing the same task, but seeing a different future.

Based upon the era of upbringing, the Baby Boomer might see the future more optimistically.  Growing up during some very turbulent times (Vietnam War, Civil Rights, Cold War), he or she saw changes that strengthened the country.

The employee from Generation X may see a more pessimistic future.   Growing up in a home where both parents needed to work, this employee may have witnessed direct family members displaced through outsourcing, offshoring, or downsizing.

Finally, the Millennial employee may be middle of the road – guarded, but hopeful.  He or she witnessed the attacks on American soil, but also likely was raised in a more protective family.

Perceptions are based upon how events are interpreted, and we often interpret events based upon our underlying beliefs and past experiences.

Creating harmony among generational subcultures should be a key goal for all managers leading a multigenerational workforce.

As demonstrated above, three individuals from within the same department can perceive the same news differently based upon nothing more than their generational perspectives.

The leader not only needs to be aware of these differences, he or she needs to manage them accordingly.

The leader also needs to take the initiative to ensure others within the group are educated to the differences so they can work together.

This starts with team members learning to trust one another.

One exercise could be having team members share some non-threatening personal history experiences about themselves like unique challenges growing up, best and worst jobs, or even favorite hobbies.

Done in team meetings, this kind of dialogue can lead to greater awareness among the subcultures rather than the differences.  As members learn more about each other, they begin to develop trust.

Once the team trusts each other, they begin to communicate more openly, which in turn leads to more efficient conflict resolution and greater productivity.

If your team is not firing on all cylinders, consider whether the cause may be generational differences.

2 Responses to “Managing a Multigenerational Workforce”

  • LaRae Quy on November 20, 2013

    Great post, Bill. Love this point: “Just as each generation values job attributes differently, each also brings a unique perspective to his or her work.”

    So true!
    LaRae Quy recently posted…You’re Only As Good As the Company You KeepMy Profile

    • wbenoist on November 21, 2013

      Hi LaRae,
      One interesting note I did not get into with this post (maybe a future post) are the similarities between Millennial and the Silent Generation (WWII era). As always, thank you for stopping by :-)

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