What qualifies as a multigenerational workforce? Essentially, any workplace with employees of two or more generations. Today’s workforce can have up to five generations working alongside each other. Here’s the breakdown by years of birth, according to Time:
- Gen Z (2001 to 2020)
- Millennials (1981 to 2000)
- Gen X (1965 to 1980)
- Baby Boomers (1946 to 1964)
- Traditionalists (1925 to 1945)
In popular culture, these generations are often presented as clashing. And to some extent, factors like communication and technological preferences can influence their interactions. But far more often, multiple generations can work together harmoniously—especially with the right leadership.
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Multigenerational Workforce Statistics
We’ve compiled a few of the most important stats for leaders of a multigenerational workforce. (In today’s world, that includes most leaders!)
- Just 6% of employees believe their leaders are prepared to manage a multigenerational workforce.
- By 2025, Millennials will make up 75% of the United States workforce. More educated, socially conscious, and tech-savvy than previous generations, they’re poised to rise into leadership positions. Many already have. They’ll also quickly leave a job with a poor employee experience.
- Flexibility is key: In a recent survey, 33% of Gen Xers, 38% of Millennials, and 32% of Gen Zers said flexible working opportunities are the most important aspect of work for them. And 64% of Gen Xers, 76% of Millennials, and 69% of Gen Zers consider this a high priority. (Job prestige and recognition came in second.)
- Employees across age groups actually have similar levels of difficulty adapting to new technologies, Deloitte found. This debunks common stereotypes about “digital natives” vs. older generations.
- In terms of attitudes toward job security and work-life flexibility, the generations are growing more similar, Deloitte also reports.
Multigenerational Workforce Examples
What does a multigenerational workforce look like?
Differences between generations can emerge in various areas, like attitudes toward change, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) asserts. SHRM outlines general distinctions in some key areas. Remember that these are just trends, not absolutes.
Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z tend to have an open-minded attitude about change. They view change as often necessary, while Traditionalists view it as only required if something is broken. Boomers blend challenging the rules with approaching change cautiously.
Baby Boomers often feel comfortable working within a set structure. Meanwhile, Millennials tend to embrace a more fluid approach, adapting as needed. Gen Z has adopted an agile mindset even more fully. After all, they’ve entered the workforce during a time that prioritizes agility.
Loyalty to the organisation varies between generations as well. Traditionalists tend to be highly loyal and stay for many years. Boomers are loyal to the team, and Gen X may be mainly loyal to their manager.
How much they identify with their work varies as well. For Boomers, career equates to self-worth. For Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z, it’s just one component of their identity. In fact, they may reinvent themselves several times throughout their career, Deloitte notes.
Attitudes toward authority vary as well. Traditionalists embrace hierarchy, while Boomers want flatter, more democratic organisations. Gen X may have a distaste for authority, following in Boomers’ footsteps. Millennials respect competent authority figures who care for team wellbeing, and Gen Z feels similarly.
Cultural differences can affect generational trends. For example, in Japan, people tend to have a more traditionalist mindset, SHRM reports.
Benefits of a Multigenerational Workforce
Having a multigenerational workforce enriches the diversity of thinking in an organisation. This boosts creativity and innovation. After all, the team gains fresh ideas from newer employees and the wisdom of experienced workers.
Further, a multigenerational workforce gives you a built-in talent pipeline and training opportunities. Newer employees gain hands-on knowledge from more seasoned ones. In the process, they prepare for advancement. And reverse mentoring can happen too, wherein more experienced people gain fresh knowledge and perspectives from younger ones.
By recruiting employees from every generation, you’ll also gain access to the best talent on the market.
Multigenerational Workforce Challenges
What hurdles can arise in a multigenerational workforce? Let’s explore several key areas in which challenges can arise.
Understanding Support Needs
“Each generation entered the workforce under certain conditions, which ultimately helped to shape our sense of purpose, our preferences, and our drivers for success,” writes Emma Waldman in Harvard Business Review. Failure to understand these preferences and motivations can lead to tensions or setbacks.
For instance, many Millennials entered the workforce during the Great Recession of 2008. This bred insecurity, as they faced a tough job search. Today, more than half of Millennials worry about whether they can succeed in their organization. This makes them twice as worried about their abilities as older generations.
Leaders may not realize that capable Millennials are suffering from imposter syndrome. If leaders don’t help them address their insecurities, Millennials may hold themselves back.
Accepting Nontraditional Career Aspirations
Challenges could arise if leaders of one generation project their career aspirations onto employees of another. A Traditionalist may assume people are pursuing a direct path to the top. Meanwhile, a Millennial might want to make lateral moves, training in a new area.
Adapting to Change in a Multigenerational Workforce
With their adaptability, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z may embrace the need for roles to shift regularly. They may welcome project-based roles that change depending on team needs. Meanwhile, Boomers may feel skeptical about such changes. Such tensions could decrease investment in a given approach or foster conflict.
Misunderstandings based on communication norms or workstyle preferences can emerge. (To be clear, these things can happen even among members of a single generation as well.) Gen Z and Millennials may prefer text to phone calls, for instance. Reliance on texting may feel off-putting at times to members of other generations.
Handling Sensitive Topics
People of different generations may have different comfort levels in discussing certain topics in work. For example, younger generations tend to be more at ease discussing mental health, race, and gender, notes Waltman. For older generations, this could prove more challenging because such topics were taboo for many years of their working life.
That could make discussions about diversity and inclusion more challenging.
Navigating Increased Responsibility
Additionally, younger people have more trouble coping with increased responsibility in hierarchical organisations. In such companies, older generations typically sit at the top of the hierarchy and give orders to others.
“43 percent below age 30 working in hierarchical organisations report such difficulties; only 27 percent in the same age group working in organisations where ‘workers of all ages work together’ report difficulties,” asserts Deloitte.
Many opportunities exist in the face of these challenges, too. For example, Boomers’ openness to democratic processes can also appeal to younger generations. Such changes can improve the employee experience if implemented well.
Now, let’s discuss how to successfully manage a multigenerational workforce.
How to Lead and Engage a Multigenerational Workforce
Let’s review some best practices for managing a multigenerational workforce. This includes how to communicate with and motivate people, as well as how to plan effectively.
At the same time, remember that generation is just one component of identity. Recent experiences, career trajectory, cultural background, and various other factors also influence people.
- Discuss communication norms. As a team, make general agreements on which platforms to use for which purposes. Establish ground rules, too. As Time points out, this will avoid a lot of frustration within as well as between generations.
- Seek to understand people’s individual perspectives—regardless of age. Ask questions like, “Can you help me understand your point of view?” This works much better than saying, “I don’t understand what you’re thinking.” Show people of every age that their opinion matters.
- Share feedback often, keeping personal preferences in mind. Gen Z and Millennials may crave instant feedback, which you can provide with the right tools, for instance. If some employees prefer a phone call or email, that’s fine too!
- Have two-way conversations to make sure you’re meeting employees’ needs. As SHRM notes, Gen Z tends to want everything to be a dialogue rather than just following orders. Be transparent, telling employees what is in the pipeline and asking for their input.
- If discussing topics once considered taboo, acknowledge that it may feel uncomfortable. If someone participates less, it doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t care. Their social conditioning might just make these discussions harder. Check in with them about their feelings one-on-one, or try holding smaller group discussions.
Motivation and Engagement
- Provide a sense of meaning and purpose. Every generation will connect to this. The younger generations especially want to know their organisation positively influences the world. By highlighting the importance of your vision and mission, you’ll inspire and motivate them.
- When navigating change, provide plenty of emotional support and reinforce trust. This will help employees of all ages to adapt, says Deloitte. Making people feel they belong in their role, and in the company, will increase their ability to manage change.
- Have open conversations regularly about career paths. Never assume you know an employee’s goals without asking. And work to design alternative career pathways for those who don’t want to manage others, as Deloitte suggests.
- Show you care about the employee experience. Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z particularly expect this, but it will benefit all generations. Enhance the employee experience by focusing on overall wellbeing. Implement meaningful wellness initiatives and reasonable expectations.
- Offer flexible working arrangements. Such options are crucial to Millennials with young children as well as Gen Xers with aging parents. Plus, Gen Zers entered the workforce during a time when such options were expanding, so they often expect them. And flexibility may encourage Boomers to stick around longer, too. For instance, some might cut back on hours but postpone retirement.
- Give formal recognition and informal praise to people of all generations. Know that promotions, raises, and bonuses are important to everyone, too—job security is high on each generation’s priority list, Forbes reports. Among Gen Xers, 91.4% view pay raises as highly important, followed by 90.5% of Millennials and 87.2% of Gen Zers.
Analysis and Planning
- Use performance management software with a multigenerational workforce. These tools can help you spot trends and patterns that aid in managing people. And it will help all generations to clearly track their goals.
- Plan for succession. Less than one-third of organisations have a talent management plan for coping with Boomer retirement, says Korn Ferry. Succession planning could also build loyalty among Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z.
By making people feel valued, heard, and inspired, you’ll engage your multigenerational workforce. With a thoughtful management strategy, you’ll lead your multigenerational team to success. Understanding trends while seeing everyone as an individual will make all of this possible.
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