The workforce is changing dramatically. For the first time in modern society, four generations—Millennials, Gen-Xers, Baby Boomers, and Matures—are working side-by-side. The fastest growing segment is comprised of employees age 27 and under. In the past four years, they became 21 percent of the workforce. About 50 percent of the workforce is age 40 and under. A larger proportion is past traditional retirement age as Baby Boomers continue to redefine retirement and Matures continue to work.
To manage a multi-generational workforce, leaders must first understand each generation, and the common experiences that connect its members. This enables them to align all employees with goals and create an inclusive culture in which age differences are recognized and leveraged.
Multi-Generational Workforce: Where Are You Coming From?
Knowing more about each generation affords a better way for managing and motivating employees of all ages. The common experiences of a generation, along with age and life stage, drive the attitudes, behaviors, and lifestyles of its members. Each generation has a different perspective. Each brings unique attitudes and expectations to work, and each influences the manager-employee relationship. We need to understand other generations so we can build relationships that lead to cooperation and job satisfaction.
Millennials: Age 27 and Younger
Raised by Baby Boomer parents, Millennials want responsibility, recognition, and opportunities for high engagement. Many have a friend-friend relationship with their parents and expect to be treated as equals. At work, they are adaptable, open, and comfortable with ethnic diversity. To Millennials, a leader is a guide and mentor, not an autocrat. Their work style is independent, but they need feedback. Their solutions are often technology-oriented. They have a strong sense of social responsibility, and carefully select the organizations they work for. Millennials thrive on short-term goals and deadlines, and want frequent feedback and reinforcement.
Generation X: Ages 28 to 40
Gen-Xers were raised when many women worked outside the home, and so they learned to be self-reliant, resourceful, and independent. They bring work-life balance to the workplace. Gen-Xers are strategi, altruistic, tech-savvy, and impatient with Boomers’ emphasis on meetings and relationships. Though they are collaborative, they prefer to work independently with minimal supervision. They focus results and are masters at multi-tasking. With their focus on work-life balance, many Gen-X women are giving up high-powered careers or cutting back on work hours in order to raise their children. Finding ways to retain high-performing Gen-Xers as they start their families is a challenge. Gen-Xers are motivated by independence, growth opportunities, and managers who trust them.
Baby Boomers: Ages 41 to 59
Often called the “Me” generation, Boomers were raised in a time of economic prosperity and civil rights upheaval that fostered individualism and a sense of entitlement. Work is a high priority, which translates into 12-hour workdays and stressful lives. They are innovative, and tend to challenge the rules. As managers, Boomers pay attention to relationship building and expect others to work the same long hours. Boomers look for new challenges that leverage their experience, and recognition for their contribution.
Matures: Ages 60 to 80
Matures were influenced by the Great Depression and World War II. As children, they were “seen and not heard.” Their values of hard work, honesty, and dedication became America’s values. They respect authority and seniority, and prefer a formal relationship with their manager. Matures are comfortable with hierarchy and a top-down management style. Matures desire to contribute and want respect for their experience.
Multi-Generational Workforce: Aligning the Generations
You can manage all four generations by recognizing and valuing differences and by creating a culture of inclusion in which every employee can thrive.
We have developed three action steps for greater engagement:
- Understand your workforce. Develop a deep understanding of your workforce-demographics, skill sets, personality traits, and perspectives on the culture.
- Build and maintain a balanced workforce. This requires recruiting strategies that appeal to diverse ages. Online job boards may have more appeal for Millennials than Matures. In contrast, newspaper ads that feature employees with 20-plus years of experience connect with Matures. Each generation expects and needs something different from work, and retention strategies should be tailored to those needs. For example, Gen-Xers may value a flextime program, while Baby Boomers will want recognition.
- Create an accepting culture. A culture that accepts and values each person can make a positive difference for everyone involved. Incorporating multi-generational workforce management into business goals is one effective way to develop an accepting culture. Facilitate interaction by including development programs geared to managers, leaders, and employees at other levels; mentoring and reverse mentoring; participation on committees; and informal social activities. Foster relationships among employees of all ages.
Manage a Multi-Generational Workforce
A workforce comprised of all generations offers flexibility, a range of skill sets, different approaches to problem solving, and the ability to attract and retain high-performing people.