Management · February 18, 2021

Bringing the Best Out of a Multigenerational Workforce

Increasingly diverse in every sense of the word, the 21st-century labor market is a multigenerational workforce. Boomers are delaying retirement. Gen Xers have been on the top leadership track for some time now, and millennials are on their heels. Meanwhile, the first wave of Gen Z has entered the workforce, too.

Rising to the challenge of cultivating and retaining vital talent from this generational diversity can yield strategic benefits for companies of all sizes. In fact, companies who understand the business case for diversity will find themselves in a better position to adapt to emerging market trends.


Managing a multigenerational workforce

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

While ranges may vary by a year or two across sources, the age boundaries are typically:

  • Boomers: 1946 to 1964
  • Gen X: 1965 to 1980
  • Millennials: 1981 to 1996
  • Gen Z: 1997 to present

Boomers

Born between 1946 and 1964, the baby boomers are in no hurry to retire. In fact, many of them started working toward their career aspirations later in life than previous generations. As a result, they can shine in a competitive, goal-oriented environment. In a multigenerational workforce, 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—regarding office hours and working years—to advance professionally
  • Excel in workplaces with clearly outlined strategic directives

Retaining these workers often comes down to showing how your company values the irreplaceable experience and institutional knowledge they can offer.

Generation X

Comparisons across generations usually skip from boomers to millennials, leaving many folks unclear about who belongs to Generation X. Think of figures like Elon Musk, US Senator Cory Booker and Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Once disruptors and gate-crashers, the first wave of Gen Xers is now transitioning to middle age—and in many cases, top management.

This middle-child generation may be uniquely situated to bridge generational divides. They can be particularly valuable when teamwork is needed to make the dream work due to:

  • Well-honed face-to-face and digital communication skills
  • A reputation as hard workers with an entrepreneurial mindset
  • Reliability as adept collaborators and networkers who cultivate professional circles with care and go the extra mile for a colleague

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 ever enter the workforce, and they've taken on a significant amount of educational and training-based debt to do it. Now, as they rapidly emerge as the backbone of our economy and our 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. Cultivating this pool of rising leadership talent means providing adequate engagement, work-life balance and greater purpose to work.

Generation Z

Informational insights are still forming on how Gen Z may function as employees. In general, they tend to be very comfortable with technology and change. You may find giving them measurable and trackable feedback goes a long way toward strong performance outcomes. It's also important to note that many workers in this generation are achieving personal and professional milestones during the COVID-19 crisis. In the long term, that may translate to a high degree of resiliency and adaptability.

Embracing generational differences

Finding the common traits of each generation can help provide a framework for success, but that's only the starting point. It's also important to embrace the reality that different generations have their own unique strengths. When working on collaborative projects, try to place them in roles where they'll shine rather than working against their inclinations.

For managers, understanding each employee's unique needs and goals as a member of your team is essential. Acknowledging and working with their generational differences is a piece of that puzzle, helping you identify what makes each employee tick and where they'll bring the most value as an individual.

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