Managing a multigenerational workforce


Today’s workforce is made up of a complex mix of generations, all of whom have their own values and expectations. To get the best out of your people, companies and their leaders need to learn how to deal with each of these different generations by understanding their strengths, values, and motivations.


What are the four main generations in the workforce today?

The current workforce is made up of four different generations, and potentially spans over 50 years:

  • Baby Boomers (born 1945-65), many of whom are coming to the end of their working lives but who currently make up around 25% of the workforce
  • Generation X (born 1965-1981), who are well-established in the workforce and senior management, and who currently make up around 33% of the workforce
  • Generation Y or Millennials (born 1981-1996), who are increasingly moving into management positions and make up around 35% of the workforce
  • Generation Z (born 1996-2012), while relative newcomers, making up 5% of the current workforce, this percentage is growing rapidly


What do they expect from their employer?

The different generations have each been shaped by their experiences and upbringing and have radically different expectations when it comes to the world of work.


Read more in our blog Generation X, Y and Z: Generations in the world of work and what they really want

Essentially what this means is that treating every employee from across the generations in the same way will simply not work. In fact, offering the same experience, leadership. or rewards to all might even have a negative effect, upsetting certain generations and causing them to become disengaged and even to leave. Overcoming the challenges of multigenerational teams is therefore crucial to success.


What is a multigenerational workforce?

Multigenerational workforce definitions vary, but essentially it is a workforce that is made up of employees from different generations. With people living for longer, and many also working for longer multigenerational diversity in the workplace is now at its widest point in history.


What are the challenges of managing a multigenerational workforce?

What each generation is looking for in their working environment is different, leading to challenges in the intergenerational workplace across three main areas:

  • Communication: Different generations have their own preferred communication methods, based on their backgrounds and upbringing. For example, generally Generation X is happy on the phone, while younger generations prefer digital channels such as email and instant messaging. That means if a Gen X manager calls a Gen Z employee and leaves them a voicemail, they are unlikely to get a call back, but may well receive an answer via WhatsApp.
  • Stereotypes: It is very easy for people to fall back on lazy stereotypes when it comes to other generations. Baby boomers might believe that millennials and Gen Z are over-privileged snowflakes who aren’t interested in hard work. Younger generations might poke fun at inflexible older generations that are bound by hierarchies or slow to adopt technology.
  • Expectations: Why people work and their attitudes to their jobs will vary. For example, younger generations increasingly want to work for purpose-driven organisations that match their own values. Attitudes to working hours, remote working and rewards and benefits also vary considerably between generations.


Taken together these disadvantages of the multigenerational workforce can lead to a mismatch between how leaders manage and how employees react. At its worst this can lead to a toxic, “them and us” culture with distrust between different generations that causes demotivation and removes the benefits that a multigenerational workforce delivers.


What are the benefits of a multigenerational workforce?

An organisation that successfully integrates multiple generations and gets the best from all of their skills and experience will benefit in four ways:

  • Meet the needs of diverse customers. The multigenerational workforce mirrors the wider population, so the majority of organisations will have multigenerational customers and other stakeholders. Companies need to bring together the skills and understanding of a multigenerational workforce to create the products, services, and experiences that their customers want.
  • Enable innovation. Collaboration between different generations brings together different perspectives and drives agility, better decision-making, and innovation. For example, younger staff may have fresh ideas based on their experience of the latest technology – combining this with the knowledge and abilities built up over years by older generations provides unique solutions to problems.
  • Provide learning opportunities. Mixing the different generations enables them to learn from each other, such as through mentoring programmes. This doesn’t just mean older employees advising their younger colleagues on career development but adopting cross-generational mentoring where Gen Y and Z educate Gen X and baby boomers on emerging technologies.
  • Build a connected, engaging environment. Having meaningful relationships with colleagues is central to an enjoyable working environment, and thus impacts engagement, motivation, and retention. In many ways the multigenerational workforce mirrors a family, and building strong connections between individuals from different generations provides structure and meets the emotional needs of all workers.


Essentially, engaging all generations is at the heart of overall organisational success, driving greater engagement, innovation, and revenue growth.


How do you motivate employees from different generations?

Starting with the role of HR, companies need to create an inclusive, working environment that appeals to your intergenerational workforce. These best practices will motivate your employees and deliver the advantages of a multigenerational workforce.


Start with your EVP and hiring process

You need to start by ensuring that you are attracting a multigenerational workforce to your organisation. Review your Employee Value Proposition (EVP) to ensure it appeals to everyone through an environment built on a strong culture and a clear purpose with opportunities that meet everyone’s needs.

When hiring ensure that you are casting your net as wide as possible. Use diverse recruiting channels to find talent from different generations and backgrounds. Of course, check all your job ads to remove any wording that might put particular generations off, and if possible, have a multigenerational hiring team to recruit and interview to remove cross-generational bias.


Look at your demographics

Understand the current make-up and distribution of your workforce. Are certain generations under-represented across the board or in specific offices or functions? Use this information to set your strategy around areas such as communication, leadership training and employee engagement.


Build an open, collaborative culture

It is easy to fall back on negative stereotypes of how different generations operate. HR needs to lead the drive to build an open, multigenerational culture where the skills and experiences of everyone are recognised and valued. Ensure that everyone moves beyond labels by encouraging honest multigenerational workplace conversations about age stereotypes. Provide opportunities for your multigenerational workforce to collaborate and socialise outside work to break down barriers and encourage the formation of genuine relationships.


Offer flexible benefits

When it comes to benefits ensure that you are flexible in what you provide – for example, offer remote working but don’t make it mandatory and give people the chance to pick the benefits that best meet their needs. Take an employee-centred approach – how can you ensure they produce their best possible work without negatively impacting how others want to work? Have clear professional development programmes but be flexible in how these are carried out – if people don’t want to follow classroom-based learning, then offer alternatives.


Provide tailored development opportunities and meaningful work

All generations value learning and development opportunities – they just want to access them in different forms. Put in place a clear policy that opens learning and development to all and ensure that managers understand and focus on the goals of every member of their team.

When it comes to their job, everyone wants their work to be meaningful. However, what this means in practice will vary depending on their generation and values. Spend time understanding your workforce and what motivates them, and then provide the processes, tools, and opportunities to help them best achieve this.


Above all, listen

The only way that you’ll know that your multigenerational HR strategy is working is by listening to your people and acting on their feedback. Make sure you use a variety of ways of collecting feedback, from regular pulse surveys to individual appraisals and 360 degree leadership assessments. Different generations will want to give feedback in different ways, but make sure you encourage them all to contribute by showing that their answers will drive change and improvement.

Finally, remember that employees from different generations have a lot in common. They all want to do meaningful work in pleasant surroundings, be fairly paid, treated well and have the chance to develop themselves. While how you support these aims will vary between generations, remember that fundamentally they share the same overall objectives.


How do you lead a multigenerational team?

While HR can set policies, ultimately employees have most day-to-day contact with their manager. They are therefore central to leading a multigenerational workforce, meaning they need to learn and demonstrate a range of skills.


Adopt an open, inclusive management style

When it comes to how to manage a multigenerational workforce it’s important that leaders change their style rather than trying to change their employees. Adopt an open style that is flexible and encourages everyone within your team to give of their best, whatever generation they are from. Develop ways of working together built on mutual respect and understanding. However, don’t treat everyone the same – what will work for one person won’t help another achieve their goals.

Every generation wants something different from their leaders – so understand their expectations and keep them front of mind. Use this awareness to create your style and aim to deliver on their needs on an ongoing basis.


Communicate a clear goal that involves everyone

Unite everyone around a common purpose and clearly explain corporate goals – and how people contribute to achieving them as individuals. This ensures every team member understands their role and allows for more meaningful recognition and appreciation.


Take a personalised approach

Arrange regular, holistic check-ins with all of your team on an individual basis. Use these as an opportunity to get to know them beyond work to give a complete picture. This builds trust and allows you to provide them with personalised support to help them achieve their wider life objectives. Work with your employees to set individual goals that help them deliver on their objectives, supported by training and development opportunities.


Encourage collaboration

One of the key benefits of a multigenerational workforce is the different skills each has. Encourage collaboration between generations so that they can share their skills and experiences and use them to improve the performance of those in other generations. Importantly ensure that this approach is two-way – Gen Z can be teaching baby boomers and Gen X as well as vice versa. This will nurture greater understanding and stronger relationships in your teams.


Communicate clearly

Each generation favours different communication channels and styles, which can mean that the same message is interpreted in very different ways. Leaders therefore need to be masters of all types of communication, from face-to-face to digital channels. Take the time to communicate the same information in different ways to particular generations so that the message is clear. Also, ensure that everyone understands different communication styles and how they can be misinterpreted to avoid misunderstandings.


How Tivian helps you to manage multigenerational workforces

It is impossible to underplay the importance of the multigenerational workforce to success. Tivian’s combination of powerful technology and industry expertise help you and your leaders manage and lead your multigenerational workforce to get the best out of every employee, in every generation.

Our full range of tools underpins your multigenerational employee engagement and leadership:

  • Tivian’s employee experience platform enables you to listen to everyone, through their channel of choice and act quickly on their insights.
  • Tivian’s Leadership 360 ensures your managers develop the skills and understanding required to successfully lead multigenerational teams. It makes it simple to collect 360 degree on-demand feedback, uncovering and highlighting areas for growth and development.
  • Tivian’s Diversity & Inclusion tool underpins the open, engaging cultures that different generations demand, measuring your progress against achieving key behaviours by collecting, analysing and sharing diagnostic insights.
  • Tivian’s Communicate XI completes the feedback loop, communicating the right content to individuals in each generation, at the right time, through the right channels to increase engagement and motivation.