Talent Management
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Managing multi-generational workforces

By Jenn Miller


The benefits of workforce diversity have been extolled time and time again. Diverse thinking, different skill sets,

fresh new outlooks and various experiences all make workforce diversity a key component in achieving organizational outcomes. However, managing a diverse workforce isn’t without challenges. With the abolition of mandatory retirement ages, many workers are choosing to remain in the workforce longer. HR professionals now have the unique challenge of having to manage multiple generations at once. Today’s workforce could potentially have workers from one or more of five generations, including:

  • Traditionalists, born before 1945 (73 years old +)
  • Baby Boomers, born 1946 to 1964
  • Generation X, born 1965 to 1980
  • Millennials (Gen Y), born 1981 to 1995

You may even be starting to welcome some members of Generation Z, born 1996 or later (22 years old and younger).


What’s the difference?

A worker is a worker, right? Not so fast. While there is some truth to the statement, workers do display generational differences. This doesn’t mean that one gets the job done better than another. However, it definitely impacts how they interact at work.



Traditionalists are quiet, loyal and self-sacrificing. Although many have retired, some remain in the workforce. They grew up during the great depression and lived through a World War. Traditionalists tend to share some key work characteristics, such as being:

  • Compliant
  • Detail oriented
  • Hard working
  • Frugal
  • Risk averse
  • Long term focused
  • Loyal

Baby boomers

Baby boomers, or “boomers” grew up in a time of optimism. They are career-focused and they have deep loyalties. They believe in starting at the bottom and working their way up. For the most part, baby boomers are set to start retiring. As baby boomers represent such a large percentage of the working demographic, their retirement will leave labour shortages. Baby boomers tend to share some key work characteristics, such as being:

  • Driven
  • Good team players
  • Competitive
  • Relationship focused

Generation X

Gen X is a smaller group than baby boomers. Gen X is considered to be the first tech-literate generation. They are known for out-of-the-box thinking and valuing continuous skill development. Gen X was also the first generation to vocalize their desire for work-life balance. Gen Xers tend to share some key work characteristics, such as being:

  • Tech-literate
  • Flexible
  • Creative
  • Results driven
  • Individualistic

Generation Y (Millennials)

Ah, the millennials! They have a bad reputation, but much of that can be attributed to a cohort difference rather than a generational difference. For example, many baby boomers shared the same beliefs as millennials today. It’s a result of age, rather than generation. That said, millennials do differ. They change jobs frequently and the idea of “climbing the ladder” is less prevalent. They used tech almost from infancy, so it’s second-nature, which makes them very tech-savvy. Millennials tend to share some key work characteristics, such as being:

  • Expressive
  • Tolerant to differences
  • Innovative
  • Open to challenges

For now, Generation Z is still lumped in with Millennials. They’re still young and they have yet to carve out their unique collective voice on the work landscape. However, they should not be overlooked or undervalued – they represent the future, and if the past is any indication, changes to the status-quo will be rapid and major.


Managing across generations

The generations are different in ways, sure, but they all share a common goal: they all want to be successful in their jobs. Whether that extends to organizational success is another story. But, when it comes to managing a workforce with multiple generations, there are some strategies that may help bridge the so-called generation gap.

How do managers cohesively mange traditionalists while managing millennials? Traditionalists are loyal and millennials switch jobs frequently. Baby boomers believe in working their way up, while Gen Xers believe that results should be rewarded over seniority.

Team building

Use team building techniques to forge a bond between team members of varying generations. Consider a team building event such as a mystery room or a scavenger hunt. Working together to solve a riddle or earn a prize has many benefits. To start, it helps diverse members forge a common bond. As well, team members get to experience working together in a low-stakes setting (for example, not solving the mystery room won’t result in lost revenue.) Lastly, team building will give everybody a chance to use their individual strengths to shine. When members from different generations see how each member’s values can contribute to an end goal, a mutual respect is created.

Communication techniques

Millennials think even email is outdated. However, for baby boomers and traditionalists, the written memo was the gold standard in communication. In order to ensure good communication, it is important that everyone is speaking the same language – and using the same platform. The best way to deal with communication breakdown is – you guessed it – communication. This goes both ways. If baby boomers need a quick lesson in Slack or iMessage, they should reach out to their Gen Y coworkers. They’ll find it’s easy to use digital communication techniques and that it garners faster responses. Conversely, if a Millennial is frustrated because their Slack messages to a traditionalist go unanswered, ask if there’s a better way to communicate. Sometimes, picking up a phone can save time and give the users an opportunity to provide more detail.

Mentoring programs

Mentoring programs are the best way to bridge the generation gap. Team up workers across generations and watch the learning and development happen. Older workers feel valued and that they are providing valuable wisdom to the next generation. Younger workers are grateful to be shown the ropes from workers with experience. Mentoring programs are a win-win situation, as they can also assist in succession planning (by helping indicate who might be on track for a promotion) and career development programs.

Team diversity is valuable and allows for more ideas and outlooks. It presents creative minds and experienced workers the opportunity to converge to bring fresh ideas to the forefront. In fact, experience coupled with creativity may be the key to moving organizations forward to ensure future survival. Each generation extols so much knowledge, value and experience that it’s within every organization’s best interest to ensure that all workers from every generation can effectively work together. Having some techniques in your tool kit for managing multiple generations is a great place to start. n

 Jenn Miller is the curriculum development coordinator for
Occupational Safety Group.



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