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Managing Generational Differences in the Workplace

6 min read

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the number of older people in the UK is steadily increasing. An ageing population means that, for the first time ever, we’re seeing up to five generations working alongside each other in the workplace.

This is great for many aspects of business, including productivity and engagement. However, managing multiple generations in the workplace can be a challenging part of talent management for organisations. So, how do we make the most of our multigenerational workforce?

A Multigenerational Workplace

Our workforces look very different than they did 50 years ago. Let’s have a closer look at the generations that make up our workforce today and think about what they value in the organisations they work for. These should be taken with a pinch of salt; these are generalisations about generations rather and won’t be true of everyone!

Traditionalists / Silent Generation

The Traditionalists, or ‘Silent Generation’, is a group of individuals with birthdays between 1928 and 1945. The Silent Generation is resilient having endured several life-changing historical events, including World War ii. Traditional values such as hard work, loyalty, and respect for authority played a key part in how they were raised.

This group generally values routine and stability. They have a strong work ethic which often compromises their work-life balance as they can often be seen prioritising work over their home lives. Loyalty to their organisations is another key trait of this group. Individuals of this age typically have a preference for in-person communication and struggle to adapt to new technology.

Many of the Silent Generation are now retired from the workplace, however, they still feature heavily in different capacities such as mentors.

Managing Generational Differences in the Workplace

Baby Boomers

The group known as ‘Baby Boomers’ were born between 1946 and 1964 and experienced an upbringing impacted by social change (Civil Rights) and war (Vietnam War).

Baby Boomers tend to be optimistic and motivated by a need to seek social justice and gain personal fulfillment.

Much like the generation before them, Baby Boomers also have a strong work ethic and demonstrate commitment and dedication to their employers by willingly working long hours. This generation prides itself on relationship-building and enjoys in-person interactions.

Generation X

Gen X individuals were born between 1965 and 1980. Again, there was significant social change during their childhoods which made a big impression on the way they operate in the workplace.

Gen Xers are generally independent and adaptable. However, unlike generations before them, they have a good grasp of how to enjoy a healthy work-life balance. Flexibility is high on their priority list when they consider the best work environment for them.

This generation is also focused on promoting the measurement of performance through results rather than hours.


Millennials (aka ‘Gen Y’) refer to those who were born between 1981 and 1996 and are the largest group in the workplace right now.

They were the first generation to have access to mobile phones, social media, and the internet as they grew up. As a result of growing up during a technological boom, Millennials are confident with all things technology and enjoy exploring ways to transform the workplace using their tech-savvy skills.

Millennials typically value collaboration in the workplace and have a strong desire to find purpose and meaning in their work. As a result of this, rather than accepting a job that offers a meaty salary, they will opt for an organisation that aligns with their values.

A desire for a good work-life balance has been passed down from the Gen Xers above them and they also look for remote and hybrid opportunities more than other generations.

Managing Generational Differences in the Workplace

Generation Z

Generation Z (Gen Z, iGeneration, Centennials) were born between 1997 and 2012 and are just entering the workplace.

Gen Z is the only generation who has known nothing but living with technology at their fingertips. They have always had easy access to social media and smartphones which makes them extremely competent at navigating changes in processes such as the introduction of new systems or platforms.

Gen Z is known as being entrepreneurial and socially conscious. They are typically opting for flexible work options and are boosting the ‘gig economy’ which is currently on the rise, often having side hustles on top of their day-to-day roles. Despite wanting flexibility, they enjoy having a place of work rather than solely working remotely.

Generation Z holds meaningful work in high esteem and is motivated by being able to make a difference in their organisation, including environmental and social causes.

Importance of Multigenerational Teams

  • Increased innovation

A Randstad study shows that 83% of employees in multigenerational workforces are able to generate more innovative ideas and solutions.

Having several different perspectives and ways of thinking in an organisation can effectively challenge the status quo. Pushing boundaries and refusing to accept the tried and tested is a great way to drive innovation and creativity in the workplace.

  • Enhanced skills

Several different age groups within one team mean that individuals can share their unique perspectives and experiences. By sharing the knowledge they’ve acquired, the entire team can benefit. For instance, older generations will typically have more life experience and first-hand experience of various scenarios whilst younger generations will generally be more tech-savvy. Generational diversity results in employees helping each other to develop new skills in areas they may not have been exposed to previously.

Further to that, cross-generational mentoring can also be helpful to organisations. This can be particularly helpful for younger employees who gain valuable insight, support and guidance from older employees about their career paths.

Managing Generational Differences in the Workplace

  • Higher productivity

According to McKinsey, organisations with high levels of age diversity tend to have higher levels of productivity. This particular study found that companies in the top 25% of age diversity were 1.5 times more likely to have better profitability compared to companies with less age diversity.

On top of that, the same research found that a multigenerational workforce tended to perform better on tasks requiring problem-solving and decision-making. Tasks requiring creativity were also performed better by teams with multiple generations. And this is all because individuals from different generations bring different perspectives, knowledge, and experience to the table.

  • Workforce sustainability

Having several generations in one team can also drive workforce sustainability through knowledge sharing. As older workers retire, younger employees can take over their roles and responsibilities, which helps to ensure the continuity of knowledge and expertise within the organisation. By sharing their knowledge and expertise with younger workers, older generations can help to ensure that the organisation can continue operating effectively even as the workforce changes.

On top of that, having multiple generations in an organisation can support succession planning in an organisation. Leaders can develop succession plans far in advance to ensure a smooth transition of leadership and management roles. So, even as older workers retire, the management of the company won’t be left high and dry. Younger employees take on more responsibilities and learn from those who are leaving the organisation.

  • Culture of inclusivity

Yet another reason to promote multigenerational teams is having a positive culture that accepts everyone for who they are. When an organisation recruits employees from different generations, it becomes more diverse. The workplace will become more inclusive as a result. This diversity can help to break down stereotypes and encourage a culture of open-mindedness and acceptance.

When employees from different generations work together, they also learn to appreciate each other’s strengths and perspectives. This drives a culture of inclusivity.

Managing Generational Differences in the Workplace

Ways to Manage Generational Differences

How can you harness the power of generational differences through effective management? Here are some key approaches to ensuring your organisation is maximising the benefits of your multigenerational organisation.

  • Get to know the individuals, not the ages

Essentially – do not pigeonhole. Stereotypes are based on broad generalisations and can sometimes be damaging. Although there are similarities across the different generational groups, each individual is different. Managers shouldn’t assume that just because someone falls into the Millennial generation, they are confident using technology. Some Millennials may value more support through training in this area and this could be missed if the manager assumes competence because of their age. So, it’s key that managers reject stereotypes to avoid misunderstandings or miscommunications that create unnecessary conflict.

It’s also important to recognise that individuals have different learning styles, work preferences, and communication styles. By taking the time to understand these differences, managers, and leaders can better support and motivate their employees, regardless of their generation.

  • Champion knowledge sharing

Another great strategy for managing a multigenerational team is to champion knowledge sharing across the organisation. Different generations will undoubtedly have different skills, knowledge, and experience they can draw upon. Through promoting sharing this with peers, managers can leverage the strengths of different generations, whilst also bridging the gap between them.

One way managers could do this is to spearhead mentoring opportunities and pair younger and older employees in the workplace.

Managing Generational Differences in the Workplace

  • Create a culture of respect and open communication

When managers encourage open communication and honest dialogue between employees of all ages, it goes a long way to developing respect between employees from different generations. Yes, different generations will of course think there is a different or better way to do something. But if managers promote openly discussing the pros and cons of their approaches, they may develop an increased understanding and respect for each other’s perspectives and work styles.

  • Cater for all with flexible ways of working

Different generations like to work in different ways. Be that Gen X who likes to work remotely versus Gen Z who is swaying towards having an office base. It’s important that managers don’t sideline any generation by enforcing a singular way of working. To do this, managers could consider offering flexible work arrangements, such as hybrid work or flexible schedules, to accommodate the needs and preferences of different generations.

  • Collaboration

Throw away working in silo and develop a positive attitude towards collaboration. Teams of different ages who work collaboratively will generate great, creative ideas that they may not have considered on their own. And by working together on projects, older and younger workers will see they are all working together toward a common goal. This will aid in breaking down generational barriers and enhance the working environment.

  • Embrace the differences

Ultimately, the only way to effectively manage a multigenerational team is by embracing each and every unique quality they bring to the table. If managers try to fight against differences that are a result of different upbringings and try to shoehorn employees into the same ways of working, they aren’t going to be getting the best from them. By identifying skills, organisations can really use these to their advantage.

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Amy is a knowledgeable People professional with over a decade of experience across a variety of private and public sector organisations. With a particular interest in employee engagement, Amy is an advocate for employee-centric approaches in all areas of HR which is reflected in her writing. Before a career in HR, Amy read English and Creative Writing at university and later studied for her CIPD, HR Management.

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