5 Tips for Managing a Multigenerational Workplace

Do you manage a multigenerational workplace? These five tips can help you out.

If you’ve got a wide age range of employees in your office, you’ve probably noticed they have different work styles. In addition to handling projects differently, they can also clash with each other, creating a less-effective team and increasing employee turnover.

While there are a variety of names and classifications for the multiple generations currently in the workplace, your best bet for managing different age groups might be to view your staff in terms of early, mid- and late-career workers. Understanding some basic differences among the generations in your office can help you avoid problems, improve productivity and keep morale high on your team.

#1 Learn their Priorities

The first step in effectively managing a multigenerational workplace is to accept that your employees have different personal and professional goals.

Younger workers are less focused on the long-term success of an employer because most do not plan on staying with their current job more than three years, according to workplace research studies. Their workplace objectives might be more short-term where your agency or office success is concerned, such as meeting quarterly or annual goals, rather than thinking five years down the road.

Generation X is no longer on a learning curve but isn’t focused on winding down their careers, either. They are looking to improve their pay, work/life balance and climb the ladder into executive positions.

Baby boomers are focused on stability, want group consensus and are eyeing retirement. With more and more older workers putting off retirement because of the recent recession, this can lead to inter-office frustration as younger and middle-aged workers have to wait to move up the ladder.

#2 Address Different Work Styles

Set boundaries for personal work habits in your office to create a middle ground for employee interaction. For example, younger workers who prefer to text might drive older workers crazy because of the extra time it takes to send five texts to complete a communication one phone call would cover. Texting also doesn’t leave a paper trail.

Put limits on evening and weekend work communication; those without children might not think twice about working after dinner or Sunday evening. Create a policy that requires employees to ask themselves, “Do I need to send this email or text now?” when working at night or on weekends. When you send staff communications, use the right mix of emails, texts, IMs, printed memos and verbal instructions.

#3 Increase Supervisor/Subordinate Communication Lines

Ask older managers to take time to explain why they are giving younger staffers projects or tasks, rather than just issuing mandates. This will help newbies feel more a part of the process and will help them build their job skills. Have managers seek input from subordinates on a regular basis to show workers they’re valued. Mentoring programs not only help younger workers improve their skills, but let older managers get more in touch with their younger subordinates.

While all workers want to feel they are valued, make sure your older managers know younger subordinates look to advance their careers with specific feedback and detailed job descriptions tied to two-way annual reviews. Let younger managers know that older subordinates can feel self-conscious and defensive and to use tact and solicit input when issuing orders.

#4 Watch for Cliques

People tend to gravitate toward people like themselves, whether it’s age, sex, area of the country or income background. Increase social and professional interaction among your employees by working closely with project managers to create balanced teams, rather than letting managers choose their members. Encourage social interaction among your staff with group lunches, evening sporting events or a weekend family picnic.

#5 Hold Lunch and Learns

Let your staff work on their presentation skills while they help train co-workers on work-related topics. Have a younger worker give a lunch talk on the benefits of using IM, texting, smart phone apps and the Cloud, providing basic terminology, tips and shortcuts. Have a mid-career worker discuss how to improve soft job skills and a build professional network. Let an older worker give a talk on retirement planning basics for all ages, working with your HR department or a qualified retirement planner. Older staff members can also give a talk on key management skills necessary for career development. Schedule one session for a group discussion on employees’ views of work/life balance. This can be an eye opener for everyone and help build respect for co-workers’ boundaries and personal priorities.

Note: Meet with HR

Make sure you don’t run afoul of discrimination laws by using inappropriate language when referring to a group of workers in a particular age group, by creating work policies based on age or by providing different benefits for different generations.

Add Your Tips to This Discussion

If you’ve found ways to bridge the generation gap at your office, department or agency, please share them here.

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Dan Jordan

Texting may not leave a paper trail but it does leave an electronic trail. Just look at what is coming our about the George Washington Bridge matter in New Jersey.

Sam Ashe-Edmunds

Good point Dan, but for long-term record keeping and ease of reference, trying to find a dollar amount on a project you discussed, locating a contact person you need or accessing other specific info from a text you received six months ago can be a pain if you’re not good about storing texts.

Pat Fiorenza

“Younger workers are less focused on the long-term success of an employer because most do not plan on staying with their current job more than three years, according to workplace research studies. Their workplace objectives might be more short-term where your agency or office success is concerned, such as meeting quarterly or annual goals, rather than thinking five years down the road.”

What study is this from? Be curious to check this out. As a younger employee – I disagree completely with those findings. I think it’s a huge management problem if you cannot express the long-term benefits of sticking at a company, and showing the value/opportunities to your talented employees. Also, a company needs to have that 3-5 year vision to push the company forward. If you’re young and eager, having a clear growth chart and knowing what’s ahead should energize you about your role.

Curious to check out the study – it sounds like an underlying issue may be companies failure to invest and harvest talent. If you’re at a place where your manager operates on an assumption that you’re going to just pack up your bags in 3 years, regardless of how talented you are – you should look for a new gig and leave. Be curious to check out the report to learn more from their findings.

Sam Ashe-Edmunds

Pat, here’s a link to aForbes article that cites a figure: “Meanwhile, 60% of Millennials are leaving their companies in less than three years.”

It’s natural to assume that if someone is planning on leaving a company in 2-3 years, they are probably not focused on making the company successful 5-10 years from now.

The WWII generation and boomers were called job hoppers if they had more than two or three jobs during their careers. Stability was key. You also had to wait and “pay your dues” to move into management. Each generation has become more mobile, and my guess is that Millenials are looking to improve their personal skill-sets quicker to advance their careers — this means taking different jobs to build your accomplishments. Because they have more technological skills, they also might have more options to find work than older generations.

I included this phenomenon in the article to help managers aware of this trend. They can then take steps (like you suggest) to address the fact that in some cases, your agency or department is only a stepping-stone for some employees. You can be ready for defections and take action to make younger employees want to stay longer. That probably means mentoring, succession planning, more training, etc.

Here are some more links:

Why are 60% of Millenials Leaving Their Dream Jobs?

“According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Generation Y is expected to stay in jobs for just over two years…”

The Cost of Millenial Retention Study

Anne-Marie Marshall-Dody

I can’t help but feel that many of the concepts in the post are about having older generations feel more comfortable in justifying keeping the status quo instead of developing a responsive and evolving organization. People leave organizations (no matter what their age) because there is limited opportunities to learn, earn, or advance.

Sam Ashe-Edmunds


On what do you base the fact that the article is about maintaining the status quo? How does improving communications between managers and subordinates, understanding different work styles, having younger workers show older co-workers the benefits of electronic communications, learning about co-workers’ priorities, adding mentoring, encouraging multigenerational interaction, adding training opportunities, holding educational lunch-and-learns and teaching respect for personal boundaries maintain the status quo?

I don’t think asking people to work evenings, weekends and 60+ hours per week is evolving or an attempt to make older workers feel more comfortable. Nor is asking employees to leave a stronger paper or electronic trail an attempt to maintain the status quo.

Can you give some examples of how employers and managers can develop a “responsive and evolving organization” that specifically addresses multigenerational work styles, habits and priorities (the point of the post)?