How to Manage Different Generations in the Workplace

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inner-banner How to Manage Different Generations in the Workplace


April 24, 2024

This may be a delicate question for some, but we will ask it anyway! Which generation do you belong to? Baby Boomer, Generation X, Millenium (Y), or Generation Z? 

Age should be irrelevant in the workplace, with everyone being treated equally. But in reality, there is a generational divide apparent to team leaders that exists between employees of different age groups in terms of their working styles, outlook, and needs. 


Generation Generalisations! 

Harvard Business Review (HBR) describes the typical personality traits and values of each generation; 


These generalisations are harmful stereotypes that are problematic in business. To overcome age bias and manage a successful team where everyone has mutual respect, it is important to debunk them. 

However, there are indeed differences, as each generation is dictated by their experiences growing up and at the beginning of their career. They entered the workforce under particular conditions that have ultimately shaped their sense of purpose, preferences, and their drivers for success. The social and cultural landscape, the economy, and technological advances have all played their part in this.  


A good team leader should be aware of what these differences are. They need to be flexible with their approach, adopting a different role with each generation or, more specifically, each individual.  


Let’s take a look at how; 


Baby Boomers

Often, hard-working individuals are more willing to take risks to pursue their goals. Dedicated to their job and loyal to their companies. They are often of a more traditional mindset, meaning they value an established hierarchy of responsibility and authority. While they don’t require constant feedback on their work, they do appreciate insight into professional opportunities that may help them succeed in their role. They are often willing to take risks and are often motivated to serve in high-level positions where they can teach younger generations, making them good mentors.  

Manager’s role – As many in this generation are approaching retirement age, they often value flexible work schedules, such as working from home, which may allow them to work for longer. 


Generation X

They are often independent and have an entrepreneurial spirit. They are more laid-back and independent, so they value flexible workplaces and productivity over hours at work. They value a healthy work-life balance. They seek efficiency and innovation in their work lives and personal lives while creating relationships with mentors. Independence and personal development are common traits. They like working for companies with bonus schemes and stock options. Often sceptical of current procedures, they take risks that can lead to progress and innovation.

Manager’s Role– professionals in this generation prefer more autonomy when doing their job. Because many will have children, managers can provide a flexible structure to establish a good work-life balance. 


Generation Y (Millennials)

The first generation to grow up in the age of technological advances, they represent the fastest-growing section of the workforce. They seek meaningful work to grow their creative skills. They are technologically savvy and use this to make their work more efficient and make an impact on their team. They are focused on results and may help older generations integrate new technology to improve efficiency. They are often committed to creating a relaxed work environment and aren’t afraid to challenge authority or the status quo to devise innovative solutions to challenges. 


Managers Role – Often value quality performance and may expect the same level from managers. Skills, mentorship, and consistent feedback will help this generation achieve longevity at a company. This may help managers to devise strategies to improve the skills of their team. 


Generation Z

Many are just beginning to enter the workforce now. Their innovative thinking will benefit organisations. Having grown up with technology, they are completely at ease with technological shifts and are adaptive to change as a result. They value connectivity in their relationships and may expect it from managers. Despite being relatively new to the workforce, they expect flexible working environments. They appreciate clear directions and transparency about their work. They seek job security and may want to stay with their employer for several years. They often have a global mindset and like places that value diversity and social responsibility.  


Manager’s Role – Managers should offer support and direction where required and invest in their growth by offering them mentorship, coaching, and training opportunities. 


Command and Control No More 

The younger Gen Z generation is often referred to as the ‘snowflake generation’ from older groups of people in society, as their needs and what they are prepared to accept differ. While this term is considered offensive and unfair, it highlights one area of difference. They do not respond well to the outdated command and control style of management. This traditional form of authoritative management is considered a proverbial dinosaur nowadays. With the number of Gen-Z employees estimated to triple by 2030, leaders must tap into the most effective way to coach them. 


Coaching Younger Employees 

  • Adapt Communication
    Open, two-way communication should be prioritised.
  • Encourage Autonomy
    Empowering employees leads to increased engagement and innovation.
  • Provide Purpose and Vision
    Illustrate how the work they do contributes to the bigger picture, connecting their role to a larger overall purpose.
  • Understand Work as a Part of Life
    This can mean increased flexibility of the work, different employee benefits than in the past, and increased focus on purpose in work and company impact on the world.
  • Establish Mentorship Programs
    These can guide employees while respecting autonomy.
  • Provide Feedback and Recognition
    Regular constructive feedback and recognising achievements.
  • Ensure Professional Development
    Provide growth opportunities and career paths. 


Inter-generational Team Dynamics 


It’s not enough to focus solely on management techniques for different generations. Managing how team members from different generations interact with each other is also paramount. They must be able to work together effectively on projects and tasks. Their different approaches, viewpoints, and working styles can potentially cause clashes and affect outcomes if not given due attention. 

Take, for instance, an older employee reporting to a younger team leader. This can be difficult for them, particularly if they have been in the role for a long time. They may lack respect for their younger team leader, which will show. This requires support to ensure a full commitment is given, both parties are supported, and improvements in the relationship are made.  

Differences can make or break a team. They can cause frustration, leading to fractures in the team, or they can enrich the team, utilising the fusion of quality experience, fresh ideas, and innovation. The deciding factor will be the manager’s ability to coach their team successfully. Teaching them to view their differences as learning opportunities and how to unite and work well together. Compromise is the key to finding a middle ground. Ensuring everyone is aligned with the common goal helps with this. 

HBR has four tips for managing the generations effectively. 


1. Challenge Harmful Stereotypes 

While the differences are often real, it’s important not to assume that every individual will have reacted to the milestones of their generation in the same ways. These assumptions can often make people feel siloed and judged before they even enter the office. 


2. Communicate Your Preferences Openly 

Help team members find different ways to communicate with each other. Ask which kind of interactions feel most comfortable to them. Perhaps you will find it best to switch between methods of communication depending on the goal of the conversation. 


3. Respect Boundaries

Previously considered taboo, subjects such as diversity and inclusion, mental health, and gender roles are now widely discussed in professional settings. Along with their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, or dis/ability, a person’s age and upbringing will also affect their opinion and how comfortable they feel discussing these topics. To create the kind of environment in which every person feels willing to ask for help and take risks, you must prioritise psychological safety. 


4. Don’t Play Favourites 

You might subconsciously lean toward certain individuals more than others based on your age. It is vital to keep an open mind and ensure every voice is heard. Younger generations often feel the need to prove themselves and, as a result, may be more vocal in meetings, sharing their perspectives. This can be misinterpreted as arrogance by more mature team members and managers. They can overlook them, citing their lack of experience. Similarly, younger generations may view seasoned employees as outdated in their approach and be dismissive of them. If you sense one generation being negative about the other or feel your internal judgments creeping in, check yourself. Have private conversations with the individuals concerned and publicly promote the benefits of intergenerational collaboration. Bridge the gap using communication, humility, and curiosity. Explain it’s a ‘win-win’ for everyone. Going forward, change the narrative from ‘us versus them’ to one richly diverse united approach.  


Using different management styles for different generations is not an easy task, as each generation is made up of unique individuals. Every team member’s personality and background will affect how much they reflect the traits described. So, while bearing them in mind, you must be objective and treat everyone on your team individually. All the while, promotes synergy for a truly collaborative team. 


If you would like expert support on how to manage generational differences, please get in touch.

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