Today's multi-generational workforce

By Veronica Costas


For the first time in history, we now have five generations in the workplace at once. As life expectancy continues to increase, so does the reality that we may not retire at 65. From a managerial perspective, it can be a great challenge to understand different generations’ working styles and coordinate teams when expectations vary so greatly depending on your workers’ ages.

We might look at it as five individual groups; the Traditionalists, who are now in their 70’s, and show no signs of retiring anytime soon, the Boomers, who are still slightly confused about social media, the Millennials, who don’t understand why it’s not appropriate to wear flip flops in the office, the GenXers, who are self-interested and a bit cynical, and the Gen 2020er, who are so great with technology, but not so great with social skills.

Experts, however, say that the only way we can see successful multi-generational teams in the workplace is to understand differences but to never stereotype. Understanding that though an individual belongs to a specific generation and might share some of those identifying traits, they are still their own person, and are so much more than a descriptive line. Getting to know each person individually is very important, and using generalisation when talking about a specific colleague only shows how little you know about them.

A few strategies to ensuring employees are mingling, and most importantly exchanging knowledge and experiences to potentially boost effectiveness and/or results, include defying traditional corporate models. Reverse and mutual mentorships are great ideas to get different generations to learn from each other and identify strengths, and naming younger workers as team leaders can change the traditional dynamics of teams, in the way that a less experienced manager will value their subordinates’ opinions a lot more than if they are the most experienced ones. Within various sectors we have seen the implementation regular social groups that are picked at random featuring members from each generation group. This has been effective for both senior and junior team members to get to know each other in a more candid and relaxed setting.

Considering personal lives and expectations is also important to putting together a balanced and high-performing team. While younger workers in their 20s don’t have many responsibilities outside of work, and are keen to learn new things and take on new opportunities, someone in their 30s and 40s might have a family to think about and mortgage to pay, so while they are looking for career advancements, they won’t be as excited about taking great risks. Older workers are usually not very interested in training, but still want to be interested in what they do, and are often after work-life balance.

While coordinating and collaborating with different generations is definitely a challenge, understanding predictable characteristics and getting to know your team members individually will help managers motivate their teams and achieve great results.