Managing an Intergenerational Workforce to Maximize Success

In our discussions with clients and candidates, a recurring topic has emerged: the multi-generational workforce and its implications for teams in various industries. While the presence of multiple generations in the workplace offers opportunities for mentorship and knowledge transfer, it also brings challenges, particularly in communication.

How can your team best manage a multi-generational workforce to ensure satisfaction and productivity for all? Here are a few things to keep in mind.

Generational Perceptions

In most workplaces, Baby Boomers are the “senior” generation, although there might still be a small percentage of Silent Generation leaders offering their experience and guidance. Boomers, however, are retiring rapidly. Between 2020 to 2021, 3.5 million more adults aged 55 and older retired, and since this time, retirements are at a higher than usual rate. Gen X has maintained a majority in the workforce for a while, but they’ve since been surpassed by Millennials, who comprised nearly 40% of the total labor force in 2020 and have continued growing. Finally, there’s Gen Z: the fastest-growing group in the workforce, and on track to surpass Boomers in 2024, according to Glassdoor.

When generations collide, so do perceptions of one another – and they’re not always conducive to productive, collaborative work. Research from The Adaptavist Group reveals how generations are perceived by one another:

  • Baby Boomers: “Bossy, disciplined, slow, and forgetful technophobes.”
  • Gen X: “Bossy but efficient, organized with a strong work ethic, and sociable.”
  • Millennials: “Easily distracted but organized, sociable, and efficient.”
  • Gen Z: “Easily distracted, poor attention to detail, and lazy—but sociable and highly tech-savvy.”

Two noticeable threads emerge here. One: generations are seen as more tech-savvy as they get younger. Two: generations are also seen as more sociable and/or distractable as they get younger. Pair this with the massive shift towards digital communication and hybrid work in the past five years, and suddenly, new complications emerge.

Collaboration and Communication Across Generations

To navigate generational differences in the workforce, it’s essential to recognize the diverse communication and collaboration preferences among team members. While younger generations may gravitate towards the latest technology, older generations might prefer more traditional methods. This variance can lead to conflicts, particularly regarding digital tools, with 90% of workers experiencing such tensions.

What can managers and other leaders specifically focus on to bridge the generation gap and improve communication? Each team’s needs will be different, but strategies that can help might include:

  • Providing extra support for team members struggling with changes to work location or style
  • Offering training on new tools
  • Incorporate new technology as needed, but with consideration to team needs rather than simply focusing on trends
  • Allow flexibility in communication methods and styles to allow employees to be authentic and build their confidence and comfort
  • Bring employees of different generations together, not just on specific work tasks, but for community-building initiatives
  • Look for ways to incorporate mentorship and knowledge transfer between groups and generations

Ultimately, bridging the generational divide – digital and otherwise – is about embracing differences without embracing stereotypes. Today’s leaders must strike a balance with a flexible approach to work that makes way for generational differences while also encouraging employees to see their commonalities and learn from one another. When we all work together, we all win!