How to Manage Generations in the Workplace

The modern workforce can now comprise of up to five generations. This new breed of multigenerational teams brings challenges to employers and managers, who must understand and oversee the needs and requirements of each generation to deliver great performance. Below, Caroline Dunk, Director at the cda, talks CEO Today through the challenges involved in managing a multi-generational company.

According to the Government’s overview of the UK population, the UK population is getting older with 18% aged 65 and over. In 2016, there were 285 people aged 65 and over for every 1,000-people aged 16 to 64 years, which is the traditional working age.

We are living longer, and working longer, which means the ‘traditionalists’ and ‘baby boomer’ generations are still prominent in the office. This leaves a generation gap between these groups and their younger counterparts.

The Office of National Statistics reports the proportion of those aged 65 and over who work has almost doubled since records were first collected. Our longer life span will affect business models, how we manage people and incur increased costs, changing the way organisations work.

Generation X are somewhere in the middle, straddling the line between senior colleagues who they have worked with their entire working life and having to embrace and understand the younger generations flooding into their office with a more modern approach to work.

At the opposite end of the scale we have the younger generations who are making a big impact. Millennials and Generation Z are hot topics in the press when discussing today’s workforce culture. They don’t always talk about each other fondly; boomers tend to think younger generations are reckless, demanding and workshy, whereas Millennials think their seniors are old fashioned.

The younger generations are driving the trend towards more relaxed and open ways of working. This age group is miles away from the traditionalists and baby boomers, which begs the question, how does a manager manage multiple generations effectively?

Each generation brings a different set of skills, attitude and capabilities to a role. This new reality means managers require a more flexible leadership style to manage people and allocate tasks effectively. They will have to adapt communication and leaderships styles accordingly for the different generations:


Born 1945 and before, the majority of this generation will most likely be looking at retirement, however some will still be active in the workplace. This older generation has been in the workplace for a long time, and many will have a more traditional approach, including business being conducted face to face, minimal technological influence and dress code. This generation appreciates respect from their managers and wants to know their work is making an impact on the organisation. Thoughts turn to retirement and ensuring they are financially stable when they step away from their desk for the very last time.

Personalised management works for this generation; a ‘one size fits all’ approach is not appropriate here and managers need to be understanding of individual circumstances and alter their attitude accordingly.

Baby Boomers

Born between 1946 and 1964, Baby Boomers are a generation who, after a long career, are starting to think about improving their work/life balance and want increased flexibility. Reducing hours and the desire to work more flexibly often are a result of this generation starting to think about retirement and slowing down.

Baby Boomers tend to stay loyal to an organisation; with an expected longer tenure than younger generations, they seek professional development and job satisfaction along with recognition from peers and management.

This is backed up by research reported by HR Magazine. It reveals in a survey of 1,810 Baby Boomers they expressed the most desire for a better work/life balance followed by the ability to work flexibly. This generation is starting to adopt the Millennial attitude.

Generation X

Born between 1965 and 1976 and in their 40’s and 50’s, they sit somewhere in between Baby Boomers and Millennials. They are thought to be the most educated generation and tent to hold mid to senior level positions. This powerful demographic understands the respect required by Boomers but appreciates the modern way of working that the younger generation brings. Generation X are hard workers, they have adapted and taken on-board modern-day working practices.

The Independent provides a brilliant quote: ‘Boomers don’t understand the internet and Millennials were raised on it. Generation X created it.

Generation X aren’t as high profile or involved in the big generational debate; perhaps they just are keeping their heads down and getting on with it. Hard work is a key feature of this group, they are able to lead effectively yet work independently. Money is a motivator; this generation have higher disposable incomes and want rewarding financially for their commitment.

Generation Y (Millennials)

Born between 1977 and 1995 and aged 20-40, this generation are bold and brash. They shout loud and want to be heard. This generation wants to build careers and craves training, development and close mentoring. They believe and care about workplace culture and blur the lines between personal and professional.

Millennials will make up half of the global workforce by 2050. They want recognition and demand flexible working schedules. They know tech. Technology is a massive part of their life, it’s how they operate; absorb news, interact with people and they can work from anywhere with an internet connection.

Managers should embrace this thirst for knowledge and passion, but they will have to manage expectations. Millennials would prefer to choose when and where they work from. If possible provide flexible working conditions and invest in technology that allows them to do this effectively; Office 365, Skype for Business and Slack are tools that make remote working effective and efficient.

Millennials want mentoring and value learning and development. They are often motivated by short term goals, so managers will need to organise PDP plans and offer regular opportunities for learning.

According to Forbes, money isn’t everything. It’s not their sole motivation; the attractiveness of the work itself, geographical location, opportunities to meet people and network and a relaxed atmosphere are factors that are also important to them.

Generation Z

Born after 1996, this is the Snapchat generation. Twenty somethings, fresh faced and straight out of education, they can be a little impatient but are keen to learn. They need mentoring, practical guidance and encouragement.

They are starting their careers in a highly competitive market; it’s a tough time to enter the workplace and they are keen to show off what they can do to prove themselves. They bring a fresh perspective so need to ensure you listen to their suggestions.

They are technologically savvy multitaskers who want rewards for achievement and need to feel they are making an impact. They are the future of work and they are ready to change the game.

Money is a motivator for this generation because they understand the importance of the stability it brings in a challenging economic time.


We have explored the different characteristics of the generations present within the workplace. Each has wonderfully unique traits to bring to the table and managed effectively can provide an asset to any workplace.

Stereotyping generational characterisations has its flaws. Your workforce may or may not exhibit typical personality traits of their peers, and engaged managers need to be able to identify what each person needs, tending to the individual and not the masses.

Managers should embrace the individual differences and bring the best out of each employee. Encourage interaction and team learning.  Be aware of potential opinion clashes and understand that at times, more care, understanding and sensitively is required. Promote collaboration, share successes and reward achievements. Embrace differences and make sure you are connected to your team.

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