How to handle five generations in the same workplace

Your workplace could easily involve five generations. This is the first time in the history of work that this has happened. While everyone in a company is supposed to work together towards shared goals, people’s attitudes, feelings, approach and expectations differ slightly across the generations.

When each generation has varying strengths, concerns, attitudes and expectations, tension can arise. You can’t just plonk everyone into a generational pot, of course. We’re all different, all individuals. But taking the time to understand people’s different work habits, and anticipating their needs, means your employee management strategy will deliver positive results. When you set in place a management strategy to address generational differences, you tap into the particular strengths of each generation, making the most of everyone’s contribution.

Once you understand the generations’ perspectives you can build active collaboration into the business, an approach that encourages innovation. It has never been so vital. With a pandemic still lingering, a war in Europe, supply chain issues, climate change, tricky socio-economic issues and a global economy to steer through troubled international waters, it’s more important than ever to get everyone working together, sharing their skills, insights and experiences to everyone’s advantage.

So how, exactly, do you do that? For a start, it helps to get to grips with the broad differences between generations, which means knowing where the generational lines fall and what they mean.

What are the five generations in a workforce?

  • Generation Z, born between 1997–2012
  • Millennials, born from 1981–1996
  • Generation X, born from 1965–1980
  • Baby boomers, who were born between 1946 and 1964
  • The Silent generation – also called Traditionalists – born between 1928 and 1945

As you can imagine, the technological advances alone that have taken place since 1928 are dramatic to say the least. The change from the time the first Traditionalists and Gen Z’s arrival was so vast it split us into two groups, each with radically different experiences of work and life. Baby Boomers are a lot less familiar with computers, whereas Millennials and Gen Z have an entire lifetime of digital experience behind them.

How to bring the generations together at work

How can you bring people together whatever their age, creating that magical situation where everyone’s working their best together? Again, these are broad generalisations, but they can be very helpful in getting everyone working collaboratively, enjoying the challenge and appreciating each other’s differences.

  • Generation Z – These digital natives expect to be involved in cutting edge tech, using technology to support their work. Job security is a priority, and a 2-4 year stint at a company isn’t unusual. Flexible working hours are popular. This generation tends to prefer collaborative management relationships. Competitive salaries matter. Investing in this generation’s development and giving them enough mentoring, coaching, and learning opportunities with senior staff will help motivate them onwards.
  • Millennials – Many of this generation began their working lives during a recession. Because they grew up with the internet, they often tend to prefer digital comms to chatting face to face. They’re keen to acquire leadership training, skills development, and career progression, and flourish when their role makes other people’s lives better. They’re often happy working remotely. They like to be judged for their achievements and judge their managers the same way. Keen on a good work-life balance, they value transparency and honesty, and career development matters a lot.
  • Generation X – These people are well educated and familiar with computers, their lives being shaped by the advent of digital technology. Reliable, hard-working and financially conservative, they straddle the digital and analogue worlds, feeling comfortable in both. They tend to prefer working with an emphasis on the individual and like to manage their workload flexibly, with less supervision and more autonomy. They’re also keen on a fair work-life balance.
  • Baby boomers – This generation has a powerful work ethic and appreciates having clear goals. Comfortable with face-to-face communication, they’re also happy using digital tech for work. Job security, a higher level of formality, and a clear structure make them happy. They appreciate being asked to share their skills and often have a great deal of experience to share. They’re usually loyal and prefer not to job-hop.
    The Silent generation or Traditionalists – This generation enjoys being paid a fair wage for a job well done. They value personal face to face interaction and enjoy sharing their expertise. They might not be as familiar with digital tech as younger generations.

How to manage the generation gap at work

Luckily, while the five working generations are different, it isn’t always too much of a challenge to bring everyone together.

Generation-aware team building can be incredibly powerful, bringing new understanding to people of very different ages and life experiences. Initiatives designed to help employees collaborate can help a lot. Setting up project teams containing different generations is a great way to get everyone talking, creating, imagining, and appreciating each other’s similarities and differences.

Once you’ve created a workplace rich in understanding, a place where everyone is respected, you encounter fewer misunderstandings as well as having a workforce that’s a lot more productive.