Best Practice

The Challenges of Managing Multiple Generations in the Workplace


With advances in healthcare and an increased focus on wellness, not only are people living longer, but they are delaying retirement further. This shift in the modern workplace may be creating more age diversity than ever before.

A 2017 Gallup poll found that 74 percent of Americans expect to work past the average retirement age, with most anticipating retirement after age 65. This may create a range of adjustment for organizations because many workforces could soon contain five generations of employees, if they do not already.

While this diversity can benefit an organization by providing a variety of skills, diverse opinions and intergenerational mentoring opportunities, it can also present challenges. Generational differences may create conflict due to opposing views, updated communication techniques or workplace evolution, and could increase office tension. Below are a few ways managers can help reduce these difficulties.

Know the workforce

Managers should familiarize themselves with key differences between the varying generations of those they manage, and how those differences affect the individual. For instance, they will want to recognize and understand how millennials like to communicate or the way baby boomers prefer to receive feedback. However, it also remains important to take time to learn employees’ specific preferences to avoid adhering only to generational stereotypes.

Make the most of mentoring

One common characteristic generally identified among younger generations is a desire for learning and development. Consider identifying mentorship opportunities between veteran employees and younger professionals to provide the chance to learn and build knowledge firsthand. This may also increase employee engagement, enhance teamwork levels and present junior employees with growth opportunities. Satisfying the desire of younger employees to mature professionally, and sharing a plan to further their career path, can diffuse tensions while strengthening the whole team.

Be adaptable

Adaptability is a skill managers should strive to develop and improve upon when leading a diverse team. Their communication style and delivery may vary depending on generational preference. Seasoned employees may favor a more traditional form of communication, like email, whereas new professionals may opt for instant messaging platforms. By taking into account these preferences and acclimating accordingly, leaders can better serve employees.

Address issues head-on

Transparency is a reputable attribute in any leader, but the importance of being open is heightened when someone is managing multiple personality types. If an issue presents itself, leaders should respond quickly and communicate clear and direct expectations to those involved. Avoiding or delaying action can worsen the situation at hand and cause a divide between colleagues. A mutual respect between employees and leaders should remain the goal. However, while differences in the workplace are appreciated, and often welcome, any negative conflict that occurs should be addressed appropriately.

Encourage collaboration

Inspiring a collaborative culture can serve as a fundamental component of developing strong teamwork. When addressing an issue, managers should solicit facts and views from everyone affected. Allowing the opportunity for employees to voice their concerns can unveil specific details managers and colleagues did not previously know. By treating the process as a partnership, management can demonstrate to workers the power of teamwork. This will encourage employees to speak up as an issue surfaces, which can turn potentially challenging situations into positive outcomes.

Unearth common ground

Successful conflict resolution often starts with identifying a common ground and building upon it. Despite generational differences, individuals frequently share key common goals, such as project-based, sales-driven or personal objectives. A good tactic for leaders is to remain aware of these varying, yet constant, objectives and use them to lay the foundation toward resolution. Establishing mutual purposes can help the involved parties build a connection and, in turn, return to their roles, individually and together, with a renewed focus.

Managing multiple generations can present a range of challenges for organizations. But with the right preparation, managers can harness the power of these situations and discover positive resolutions.

Greg Denaro is a performance specialist and Jeff Holder is a business performance advisor for Insperity, which has been an advisor to America’s best businesses for more than 32 years, providing an array of human resources and business solutions designed to help improve business performance.

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