Ideas for Leaders #381

Managing the Multigenerational Workplace

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Key Concept

There is an increasing demand in the workforce today to add multigenerational diversity to the mix. What exactly comprises a multigenerational team, and what are the unique characteristics and expectations each generation brings the fore? Read this Idea to learn more about how to ensure your organization makes the most of its multigenerational workforce.

Idea Summary

In a white paper published by Kenan-Flagler Business School, Dan Bursch and Kip Kelly describe today’s workforce has decidedly multigenerational and comprised of five generations each with distinct general characteristics:

  • Traditionalists (born pre-1946): traditionalists tend to have a strong work ethic that translates into stability and experience. Essentially they view of work as a privilege, they are reticent to disagree with others and are uncomfortable with conflict. They represent only a small percentage of today’s workforce, but their wealth of knowledge and experience is difficult to replace.
  • Baby Boomers (born approximately between 1946 and 1964): like traditionalists baby boomers have a strong work ethic, but this generation, which saw vast post-war societal changes, are for different reason motivated by rank, wealth, and prestige. They prefer managers who seek consensus and treat them as equals. The oldest baby boomers are now nearing retirement.
  • Generation X (born approximately between 1965 and 1979): this generation’s formative years were marked with uncertainty and turmoil (such as the AIDs epidemic, the fall of the Berlin Wall, divorce rates reaching an all-time high, etc). Many experienced independence early in life and learned to thrive on change. As a result, they are resilient, flexible, adaptable, and technically proficient having also witnessed the birth of the Internet.
  • Generation Y (or Millennials) (born approximately between 1980 and 1995): Millennials have been shaped and defined by the Internet and the World Wide Web more than anything else, which opened a whole new world of opportunities. The most diverse generation ever, their technological fluency can be at the root of some workplace conflict between them and Baby Boomers. Millennials are goal and achievement-oriented, tend to value social and corporate responsibility, and are good team players and optimistic. However, they are also prone to frequent job changes as they seek new opportunities and employment on their own terms.
  • Generation Z (born from approximately 1996): this generation is just entering the workforce, and it is expected that its members will bring their own attitudes and expectations to work, just like the generations before them. Having witnessed the cost of higher education rising, along with an explosion in student loan debt, they may place more value in work experience over education. Research also suggests that Generation Z is even more technologically ‘plugged-in’ than Millennials.

A multigenerational ‘5G’ workforce brings with it a wide variety of challenges and opportunities; the benefits of multigenerational work teams include the fact that such teams are more flexible, and can gain and maintain more market share because they reflect the multigenerational market. In addition, they make better decisions because they have received broad-based input from multiple generational perspectives.

Business Application

The key to managing the 5G workforce, according to Bursch and Kelly, is to appreciate their differences and focus on what they have in common. This is particularly important for HR and talent management professionals to do when developing plans to recruit, retain, and engage employees from different generations.

It is important to honour each generation’s unique contributions, and understand how the events they experienced in their lives have shaped their expectations in the workplace; for example, when recruiting Traditionalists, organizations should focus on personal contact and show respect for their age and experience. On the other hand, HR and talent management professionals who want to recruit and retain people from Generation X should appeal to their desire for flexibility in how and where work gets done.

Similarly, each other generation will have its own expectations that need to be understood and worked with in order to build a successful multigenerational team.

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Idea conceived

  • May 2014

Idea posted

  • May 2014

DOI number



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