Management · November 10, 2022

How to Engage a Multigenerational Workforce

The 21st-century labor market is increasingly diverse in every sense of the word, including diversity of employee ages. In the current multigenerational workforce, you may simultaneously see baby boomers delaying retirement while those in Generation X get on the leadership track—with millennials on their heels as the first wave of Generation Z enters the workforce.

This means you may also be grappling with the question of how to engage a multigenerational workforce, particularly amid the Great Resignation.


Managing a multigenerational workforce

Cultivating and retaining vital talent through generational diversity can yield strategic benefits for companies of all sizes. In fact, businesses that understand and act on the business case for diversity will find themselves in a better position to adapt to emerging market trends and maintain a steady, effective workforce.

Each age cohort—from baby boomers to Generation Z—brings unique opportunities for improvement in productivity, adaptability and skills to the workplace. Understanding how to bring out the best of each generation can help your business achieve its goals more effectively.

Although ranges may vary by a year or two across sources, here are the birth year ranges for each of these generations.

  • Baby boomers: 1946 to 1964
  • Generation X: 1965 to 1980
  • Millennials: 1981 to 1996
  • Generation Z: 1997 to 2012

Baby boomers

Baby boomers are in no hurry to retire. In fact, many started working toward their career aspirations later in life compared to previous generations. As a result, they can shine in a competitive, goal-oriented environment.

In a multigenerational workforce, baby boomers are among the most likely to:

  • Be responsive to defined hierarchies and decisive management styles
  • Respect the traditional requirement of putting in time on the job—office hours and working years—to advance professionally
  • Excel in workplaces with clearly outlined strategic directives

Because they're rougly between the ages of 58 and 76, many members of this generation are dealing with health issues or other aging concerns and may need some flexibility to work around their medical needs.

Flexibility can also help employers hold onto this workforce longer as baby boomers begin the shift into retirement. Many would prefer a phased retirement, where they work past the age of eligibility for Social Security benefits with a gradual reduction in hours over time.

Providing this type of phased retirement to baby boomers can help maintain access to their knowledge, experience and skills while also giving them an opportunity to mentor younger workers. This mutually beneficial arrangement can also help them feel both valued and respected.

Generation X

Comparisons across generations typically skip from baby boomers to millennials, leaving many folks unclear about who belongs to Generation X. Think of personalities like rapper and actress Queen Latifah, Vice President Kamala Harris and Spanx creator Sara Blakely as members of this generation. Once disruptors and gate crashers, the first wave of Generation X is now transitioning to middle age—and in many cases, top management.

As the cohort that came of age with the internet, Generation X straddles the line between remembering a world before connectivity and still feeling as comfortable online as the internet natives who were born after them. They also understand the workplace expectations of the baby boomer generation—like the focus on individual work, importance of face time and employee loyalty—as well as the expectations of younger generations like collaboration, remote work and the need for a greater purpose.

This means a Generation X workforce can be particularly valuable when you need multiple skills at once, including:

  • Well-honed face-to-face and digital communication skills
  • A hardworking, entrepreneurial mindset
  • Reliability as adept collaborators and networkers, as well as the ability to work independently

Generation X is more concerned about their finances than any other age cohort in the multigenerational workforce. They were among the first generation to deal with both high student loan balances and the expectation of footing the entire bill for their own retirement.

This financial strain means most employers will notice that their Generation X workers are unlikely to join the Great Resignation. However, you can keep this generation's loyalty by paying them competitively, giving them more responsibility and opportunities for advancement, and allowing them to find creative solutions even if it's not how things have always been done.

Millennials

Now officially the largest living generation, millennials developed a reputation for being eager to advance professionally based on credentials and performance rather than seniority. They're the most educated generation to enter the workforce and have taken on a significant amount of educational debt to do it. Now, as they rapidly emerge as the backbone of the economy and the leadership talent pool, it's important to take a more nuanced look at millennials.

Preferring productivity to face time, millennials can be reliable innovators and drivers of efficiency. They also tend to respond best to flexible management styles and draw strong boundaries with their employers. For millennials, work is simply a part of life rather than the center of it, and they refuse to accept some of the workplace expectations considered typical for their parents and grandparents.

This shift in expectations partially explains why millennials have been the main drivers of the Great Resignation. These workers are well aware that they can find higher pay, a more flexible working environment, more compassionate bosses and more fulfilling work elsewhere.

Holding onto this pool of rising leadership talent can be a tall order for employers who are uncomfortable with the ways workplace expectations are changing. As with every generation, millennials want to feel valued and respected. You can cultivate their loyalty by offering them competitive pay, respecting their work-life balance, providing meaningful engagement and highlighting the greater purpose of your work as a whole.

Generation Z

Because the oldest members of Generation Z are now entering the workforce, informational insights are still forming on how this group may function as employees. It's a good idea to avoid generalizing these young workers, as time will tell how the generation as a whole responds to employment in the post-pandemic world.

In general, though, Generation Z tends to be comfortable with technology and change because these young adults grew up online and have lived through a number of seismic shifts in society and culture. This means they're in a unique position to adapt as your needs or industry changes. Such a high tolerance for change can also mean the Generation Z workforce is uniquely suited to propose creative solutions to problems. Giving these employees measurable and trackable feedback goes a long way toward strong performance outcomes.

Because this cohort is also concerned about diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, a focus on this can help attract talent while cultivating loyalty among Generation Z employees. Putting an emphasis on DEI can help you retain your younger workforce because a higher salary may be easily found elsewhere, but a great DEI initiative may not. Plus, this type of initiative can improve your workplace overall because diverse teams tend to have better outcomes.

Embracing generational differences

Finding the common traits of each generation can help provide a framework for success, but it's only the starting point in how to engage a multigenerational workforce. It's also important to embrace the reality that different generations have their own unique strengths. This starts with recruitment.

Remember that each generation has a different preferred method of communication, so make sure you're reaching potential candidates in multiple generations where they are—using print ads, word of mouth, job board postings and social media rather than a single recruitment method to attract talent.

When working on collaborative projects within a multigenerational workforce, try to place your employees in roles where they'll shine rather than ones that go against their inclinations.

Understanding each employee's unique needs and goals is essential to success. Key to this is acknowledging and engaging generational differences, which can help you identify what makes each employee tick and where they'll bring the most value as individuals.

When employees of all generations feel this value, they're more likely to resist the call of greener pastures elsewhere—keeping your business on sound footing to achieve long-term success and become greater than the sum of its parts.

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