August 15, 2019

Managing a multi-generational workforce

Leaders need to know what motivates each age group to maximise strengths for the organisation

The workforce of today is a multigenerational place with different styles of communication, ways of working and aspirations. As a leader, you must learn to manage these different age groups according to their needs and beliefs.

According to the Randstad Workmonitor Q2 2018 global survey, 86% of workers today prefer to work in a multi-generational team and 85% believe that collaboration between generations is mutually beneficial for their organisation. Eighty-five percent also stated that being on a team with different age groups leads to more innovative ideas and solutions.

These statistics tell us that a multi-generational workplace helps people work better and support each other, building on strengths and helping overcome weaknesses. However, a workplace with different age groups also comes with its share of challenges.

The Randstad report also mentioned that 31% of respondents struggle to communicate with co-workers who are not from their generation or age group, and 80% said the main difference in working with different generations is communication style.

With benefits and challenges alike, the multi-generational workplace is the new reality. So, how do you make it work?

How can you, as a leader, manage your workforce in a way that different generations can perform and contribute their best while mutually supporting and learning from each other?

Here are three lessons to help you bring out the best out of different generations:

Lesson One: One size doesn’t fit all

First and foremost, you need to accept that every generation grew up learning at a different time with different priorities that have mostly affected their way of working and style of life, and even perceptions of happiness and success. You need to know what the aspirations and styles of each generation are and communicate in ways that respond to their individual requirements and preferences.

In 2020, Generation Z will begin entering the workforce on a larger scale, and Generation Y numbers will be the highest in history. Generation X will be moving into leadership roles and Baby Boomers retiring or preparing to do so.

If you use the same communication style with all generations, your leadership style is at risk of failing in the eyes of some age groups, if not all.

Lesson Two: One employee’s weakness may be another’s strength

A diverse skill set is necessary to tackle the tough problems facing today’s businesses. One generation may be good in one particular area and weak in others, but when different generations come together in the same team, each brings its uniqueness and expertise to the table. That creates a perfect balance for the overall success of organisational culture.

“A diverse team is better equipped to approach a problem from every angle, resulting in a better, more thought-through solution,” said Ryan Jenkins, a well-known motivational speaker, and trainer and author of The Millennial Manual.

Therefore, you need to educate every generation about the contribution that each makes to the organisation, and how they can all work together as a team, supporting each other in their weaknesses.

Lesson Three: Align your workforce with larger business goals

Every employee is motivated with different goals at different stages of life. The approach to inspiration or motivation that works best for one particular generation may not appeal to others.

Therefore, you need to communicate that each employee is working toward a larger business goal beyond the differences in generations. There is no greater motivation for an employee than knowing that they’re making a significant contribution to the organisation, and you need to let them know that you value the contribution from each one of them.

“Generational conflict is more likely to arise from errors of attribution and perception than from valid differences,” observes Ron Zemke, the co-author of Generations at Work: Managing the Clash of Boomers.

The biggest learning point for a multi-generational workplace is to know the people you work with. The challenge for you, as a leader, is to demonstrate an understanding of what is most important to each generation.

This will not only help your organisation create a culture that meets the needs of all generations and maximises their strengths but also empowers every employee in your workforce, irrespective of their age and experience, to have a gratifying share of contributions and accomplishments toward overall organisational success.


Arinya Talerngsri is Chief Capability Officer and Managing Director at SEAC (formerly APMGroup) Southeast Asia’s Lifelong Learning Center. She can be reached by email at arinya_t@seasiacenter.com or https://www.linkedin.com/in/arinya-talerngsri-53b81aa. Experience our lifelong learning ecosystem today at https://www.yournextu.com/