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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in generational workforces

My previous blog post discussed the inherent differences in out multi-generational workforces. Following on from that, here are some practical suggestions to assist people managers to manage the expectations of everyone in the team.

1.  People all of all generations want to be respected.  

Everyone has different strengths to bring to the table, whether it’s years of real-world experience and accumulated corporate knowledge, a fresh young mind and novel approach to problem-solving or an amazing proficiency with the next big thing in social media.  

Promote a culture of active listening and discourage employees from generation-bashing eg: ‘I see Dad’s Army are manning the security desk again this morning!’ or ‘Have you seen the new intern in the accounts department? A flock of seagulls could be nesting in those dreadlocks!’

2. Be clear about expectations and career advancement opportunities within your organisation right from the start. 

Realistic information at recruitment fairs and job interviews, as well as ‘onboarding’ and induction programs can help to manage the high expectations of young people when they join the workforce. Remember they are often highly qualified and recognise that there can be blockages at the top as older generations remain in the workforce and this tension may need to be managed. The fact that globally this generation is highly qualified and it is a very competitive recruitment market means that young people need to distinguish themselves in the job market through experience. Exposing them to different experiences or projects (not necessarily promotion) can be a way to manage everyone’s expectations in the workplace.

3.  Emphasise shared goals but be flexible about the best way to reach them.  

Nobody likes being micro-managed and different generations may approach their work in a variety of ways. Gen Y are often exceptional multi-taskers, Gen X may prefer to work autonomously and some Boomers may be more comfortable working collaboratively. However, there are many roads to a shared destination. Be flexible. Encourage staff to communicate openly and to celebrate their creativity and diversity.

4.  Encourage inter-generational mentoring

Not everyone will feel at ease sitting in a classroom (particularly a computer training room) but everybody likes to learn new skills and feel valued by their employer. Consider offering a ‘skills exchange’ program where, for example, Boomers pair up with Gen Y to swap advice about leadership skills for help using new technologies.

5.  Leaders need to be authentic, trustworthy and motivating.  

Different generations may have different expectations about leadership but everyone wants to be able to trust and respect the ‘commander-in- chief’. The best leaders have a broad range of leadership styles and have the capacity to adapt to changing circumstances and different audiences.

6.  Encourage a healthy work-life balance for all age groups.

To retain valuable staff of all age groups for longer, ask people what they need in terms of a reasonable balance and as long as it doesn’t interfere with organisational goals or performance, try to accommodate it wherever possible.

7.  Change is hard on everyone.  

There is a widespread perception that older people are more resistant to change and that young people embrace it. However, research shows that the acceptance or rejection of change has far more to do with the perceived costs and benefits of that change than the age demographics of employees.

8.  Give constructive feedback and encourage life-long learning. 

Everybody likes to know how well they’re performing and feel that they have the skills to do their job well.  Research conducted by the Hay Group found that all generations cited ‘exciting and challenging work’ as the main reason for staying with their current employer. Give staff opportunities to keep growing and developing their skill sets and knowledge base, whatever their age.

9.  All generations have similar core values but they may express them differently.  

While people of different age groups may at times seem worlds apart in terms of interests and capabilities, when it comes to what really matters most, all generations put family at the top of their list. Other top values shared across the generational divide include: achievement, competence, happiness integrity, love, self-respect, responsibility and wisdom.

10.  Loyalty is about the context, not the age of your employees.  

There has been a lot written in recent times about younger generations being less loyal employees than older ones. However, research has found that number of hours worked by employees related more to the level of seniority within an organisation rather than age demographics, ie the greater the level of responsibility, the more hours worked.

If you would like to know more about human resource management, conflict resolution or leadership training opportunities for your organisation, please contact us.

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Generational diversity in the workforce is nothing new, but as people are living longer and retiring later, it is becoming more common to see four, or in some cases, even five different generations working side by side in organisations.   

It is not uncommon to see the workforce in both government and the private sector reflecting a growing number of 65+ year olds due to changes in accessing of entitlements and ensuring sufficient funds to support them for retirement into their 80s and beyond!

This is a very different work environment to even 10 years ago for many organisations.

This workplace reality can create many people management challenges as different generations can reflect different perspectives on communication styles, work/life balance, organisational change, implementation of technology, leadership style, expectations of employers and paths for career progression for example. 

Although stereotyping is always a risk, there is some value on reflecting on the different generational experiences and how that can impact on the workplace environment.

So how are the different generations characterised?

  • Traditionalists, also known as the Silent Generation (born between 1928 and 1945).     

Although only comprising around two per cent of the current workforce, many working Traditionalists now hold very senior and powerful positions, eg members on Boards of Directors.

  • Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964),

Accounting for about 29 per cent of the workforce, the 2008 Global Financial Crisis (GFC) hit the superannuation funds of this group hard. Many have delayed their retirement plans and are still working full-time, much to their disappointment and simultaneous annoyance of some of the younger generations coming through! Changes to superannuation access rules have hit this group the hardest with the least amount of time to recover from the changes.

  • Gen X, also known as the MTV generation (born between 1965 and 1979)

This group makes up about 34 per cent of today’s workforce. Many are now at the midpoint in their careers and hold strong positions in key leadership roles.

  • Generation Y, also known as Millennials (born between 1980 and 1994)

Comprising of about 34 per cent of the workforce and this group are now in the early stages of their careers. Often described as the most highly qualified generation (and of course as a result lumbered with large HECS debts they are keen to pay off!)

  • Generation Z, also known as iGens or Post-Millenials (born between 1995 and 2009).

Often confused with Millenials, the oldest of this group are now just beginning to enter the labour market and currently make up less than one per cent of the workforce. Their experience of being born into a world of fast paced technology reflecting constant and rapid change has manifested itself particularly in different expectations to other generations around how we communicate and feedback in the workplace, in what format and how often.

Just as in any diverse mix, the potential for conflicts are clear.

Stereotypes abound about each of these groups, eg that Traditionalists favour a ‘command and control’ management style and resist change, Boomers are condescending workaholics, Gen X are cynical and disrespectful of authority, Gen Y are tech-savvy narcissists who need constant attention and Gen Z are risk-adverse, untrusting Snapchatters with an attention span of eight seconds!

It’s not always easy to separate the myths from the reality and I want to focus on the areas that unite, rather than divide, people.

Jennifer Deal, a leading research scientist with the US Center for Creative Leadership, argues that intergenerational conflict has more to do with miscommunication and misunderstandings than anything else. Her findings, outlined in the book, Retiring the Generation Gap: How Employees Young & Old Can Find Common Ground (2007) are based on seven years of research with more than
3,000 corporate leaders.  

According to Deal, while it is natural that people of different ages will see the world in different ways, the so-called generation gaps are more commonly “fuelled by common insecurities and the desire for clout”.

Tolbize (2008), similarly found that “Generational conflict is more likely to arise from errors of attribution and perception, than from valid differences.”

So how do you manage the age mix and promote intergenerational cohesion in your workplace? 

My next blog provides some helpful strategies, but if you would like to discuss the needs of your organisation, please get in touch.


  • Deal, J, (2007) Retiring the Generation Gap: How Employees Young & Old Can Find Common Ground, Jossey Bass, San Fransisco
  • <http://www.amanet.org/training/articles/The-Myth-of-Generational-Differences-in-the-Workplace.aspx> viewed 26 March 2016
  • <https://www.haygroup.com/downloads/de/haygroup_thought_paper_multigen%20workforce.pdf> viewed 26 March 2016
  • <http://growingleaders.com/blog/generation-z-differs-generation-y/> viewed 26 March 2016
  • <http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/05/11/millennials-surpass-gen-xers-as-the-largest-generation-in-u-s-labor-force/> viewed 27 March 2016
  • Tolbize, Anick, 2008 ‘Generational differences in the workplace’, <http://rtc.umn.edu/docs/2_18_Gen_diff_workplace.pdf> viewed 28 March 2016
  • <http://www.tomorrowtodayglobal.com/2007/07/25/retiring-the-generation-gap-how-employees-young-old-can-find-common-ground-by-jennifer-deal/> viewed 28 March 2016
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