Managing a Multigenerational Workforce
workforce with multiple generations

Managing a Multigenerational Workforce

Employees across five different generations are making valuable contributions in today’s business world, but each generation comes to work with a different set of preferences for learning and coaching. Because receiving feedback and seeing a path to career growth are key factors in determining employee satisfaction, it’s imperative that HR professionals know how to navigate the needs of their employees regardless of their age.

The five multigenerational employee bands include:

Generation Name  Born 
Traditionalists  Before 1946 
Baby Boomers  Between 1946 and 1964 
Generation X  Between 1965 and 1976 
Generation Y, or Millennials  Between 1977 and 1997 
Generation Z  After 1997 


Following are some of the differences among the generations and how they affect management dynamics.

Employee feedback and coaching

As times have changed, so has the way employees wish to have their performance reviewed and receive coaching. For Traditionalists, no news is seen as good news. They tend not to expect feedback so long as things are going well.

Baby Boomers, on the other hand, expect to receive their performance feedback via a formal review conducted once a year, with lots of documentation to back it up. As a result, Baby Boomer managers often tend to withhold feedback until review time because they didn’t receive much from the Traditionalists during the formative years of their careers.

This can turn into a sticky situation as Boomers manage reports from younger generations — Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z — who desire a much greater level of feedback on their performance.

These groups of workers have some commonalities as they are hungry to know where they stand, and they periodically will seek out their managers to ask with an approach that might be described as, “Sorry to interrupt, but how am I doing?” With Millennials, the bar is far higher. Nine of 10 of these newer members of the workforce expect feedback at least once a day.

According to a study conducted by staffing firm Randstadt, perhaps surprisingly, more than half (51%) of Gen Z employees prefer in-person communication with their managers, rather than communication via email (16%) or instant message (11%).

Because of these generational differences in styles, it’s important to have clear policies and procedures in place on a corporate level so all employees understand what is expected of them and how and when they will be evaluated. Job descriptions and performance review forms and practices should be standardized, and HR leaders must proactively coach managers to help them adapt to their direct reports’ various preferences.

coaching-employee

Career development and learning

The generation gap is also evident in how today’s workforce thinks about professional development and continuing education. The ability to visualize a strong career path into the future is a key indicator of whether an employee will stay with an organization or seek more opportunity elsewhere.

Traditionalists tend not to prioritize formalized training to learn new skills or job roles; they’re more in tune with learning on their own as they go. Thus, they might not be quick to offer such training to direct reports. Traditional thinking is, “I learned the hard way, and so will you.”

The Boomers’ thought process is very different but can also lead to a lack of training for their employees. The Boomer generation was raised to believe in lifetime employment with one organization, so they see training less experienced colleagues as potentially risky — train them too much, and they might leave for what they determine are greener pastures.

This way of thinking is in direct opposition to Gen Xers, who have been shown to stay longer at companies where they’re provided more opportunities to learn.

For Millennials, continuous learning is a way of life. Having grown up during uncertain financial times, they’ve seen how economic downturns can dramatically affect employees. Instead of looking for lifetime employment, they’re looking for lifetime employability. Changing jobs is their expectation, so they’re most satisfied when they can improve their résumés and stay marketable.

Much like Millennials, Gen Z workers appreciate a good work-life balance and have the expectation that their employers will provide them with learning and development opportunities. While Millennials are comfortable with a structured program, Gen Z prefers to create their own pathway.

The table below outlines the differences in the employee generations:

Generation Name  Coaching Style and Feedback  Attitude Toward Career Development and Learning 
Traditionalists  Don't expect feedback unless there are problems  Formal training isn't a priority 
Baby Boomers  Expect full-documented annual review Risky to train employees as they may leave company with the new skills 
Generation X  Desire frequent feedback  Exhibit loyalty to organizations investing in their learning 
Generation Y, or Millennials  Desire frequent feedback  Satisfaction comes when they're continually learning 
Generation Z  Expect daily feedback  Expect learning and often create own learning paths 

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