Managing a Multi-Generational Workforce

Economists tell us that this is the first time that we have four generations in the workforce. These are interesting times.

  • Some from the Silent Generation (those born between 1925-1945) are still working.
  • Many Baby Boomers (1946-1964) will continue to work full time or part time for many more years.
  • Generation Xers (1965-1980) are now occupying lower and middle management positions.
  • Many of the Millennials (1981-2000) are now entering the workforce.

This dynamic means that managers must understand the fundamental differences between the generations in order to create cohesive teams and motivated workers.

The Silent Generation

Those from the Silent Generation that are still in the workforce are at least 63 years old. Their generation lived through two world wars and for some, the Great Depression.


  • Value hard work and respect authority
  • Family-oriented and thrifty with money
  • Respond best to communications in writing
  • Motivated by cash bonuses
  • Want to be respected for their experience

The Baby Boomers

There is a lot of speculation about what will happen as members of the Baby Boomer generation start to retire. Baby Boomers—who tend to be better educated than their Silent Generation parents—currently make up the biggest percentage of upper management and knowledge-workers.


  • Grew up in the ‘60s
  • Complicated family lives
  • Opinionated
  • Respond best to team situations and planning in group settings such as meetings
  • Like to feel needed and personally rewarded
  • Want to have their input valued

Baby Boomers live healthier lifestyles, seek personal fulfillment, and have stretched themselves to the edge financially. Consequently, they will be living longer, and working longer.

Generation Xers

Generation Xers grew up as the latch-key children of Baby Boomer parents who were divorced and working long hours, sacrificing their work and family life balance. As a result, the Gen Xers demand work/life balance for themselves.


  • Independent natures
  • Dislike someone looking over their shoulders
  • Grew up using computers primarily as a tool
  • Goal-oriented, much like the Silent Generation
  • Entrepreneurial and motivated to save
  • Appreciate having time off and the flexibility to be with their families
  • Like being given difficult challenges, while still working well with structure and direction
  • Want direct and immediate feedback on their performance

Members of Generation X realize that there may not be career ladders and loyalty within companies, but they are looking for opportunities to be challenged and learn new skills in order to remain employable and advance themselves in their career tracks.

The Millennials:

Lastly, outnumbering the Gen Xers, we have the Millennials, also referred to as Generation Y. We have a lot yet to learn about this generation, which is only now entering the workforce.

Many of us who work in economic development and workforce development hear every day about the problems with the workforce’s lack of soft skills and work ethic. The solution to this problem may rely upon how all of us manage this next generation of workers.

The Millennials are different from the generations that precede it.

Millennials see work as a means to an end, not an end in itself. They more than demand work/life balance in their lives—they feel entitled to it and expect it.

They are not workaholics like the Baby Boomers, nor do they have that same sense of loyalty to their employers.


  • Grew up with technology that provides instant gratification, and expect that on the job
  • Prefer to communicate electronically rather than personally
  • Very tolerant of others and expect tolerance in the workplace
  • Want meaningful work and to be challenged
  • Used to doing multiple things at once while on the computer
  • Will be highly educated, but will incur enormous debt for that education
  • Entrepreneurial, confident, sociable and demanding
  • Want leaders with integrity
  • Want to work with people they like
  • Expect to have some fun in the workplace
  • Want to be rewarded for their efforts
  • Want access to updated technology

The Millennials are a demanding—even high-maintenance—generation with the capacity for great performance.

With such a broad array of personality traits and expectations, how will a multigenerational workforce function?

Proper management is the key to maintaining a successful and productive multigenerational workforce.

Managers need to:

  • Craft styles and strategies that function well with each generation under their supervision
  • Maintain harmonious relationships between members of different generations.

This will become an increasingly pressing challenge as multigenerational workforces become more common. Not only will members of older generations sometimes fall under the supervision of younger generations, but different generations will have to learn how to work well together as teams.

These are situations which can easily breed resentment and conflict, but that, if handled well, can also prove to be very rewarding for staff and companies both.

The future holds other changes as well:  As Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation retire, a significant gap will be left in the upper management and knowledge-worker ranks. The small group of Generation Xers will rapidly be promoted to fill this void.

This will result in a gap in middle management, which means that Millenials will move more quickly into middle management.  It’s interesting to ponder how this will change the workforce.

For instance:

  • Many companies today won’t hire workers with tattoos or piercings. But many workers in Generation Y have already tattooed or pierced their bodies, and they will be the managers of tomorrow.
  • Generation Y has grown up “chatting” on the internet, not on the telephone. Will tomorrow’s managers meet in person with employees, or utilize a more removed and impersonal medium?
  • Generation Y is much more tolerant of others—accepting not only diversity of religion, race, and national origin, but sexual preferences as well. How will this change tomorrow’s workplace?

It may still be unclear what tomorrow’s workplace will be like, but what is certain is that it will be different from today’s. New management styles must be developed to handle this new composition of the workforce.

Regardless of which generations those currently in management positions claim membership to, it is certain that adaptability and forward-thinking are traits that the future demands of them.

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