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Providing leadership in an Intergenerational Workplace

By: Brenda Robinson

Management and leadership development has a new challenge to address. How do we effectively lead people from four or even five generations in one workplace? Managers and leaders can have a significant impact on engagement levels, job satisfaction, team commitment and even desire to stay or return to work in this workplace.

Research tells us that we are headed into an increasingly competitive market for recruitment and retention. For every two employees eligible to retire, there is less than one replacement worker. And, the workers who are replacing retired employees are often coming from a very different generational experience. What does this mean? In most settings, it means a greater responsiveness and flexibility than ever before. We can no longer just manage a team or lead the group, we must manage and lead the diversity within our work groups.

Here’s a quick look at the diverse generational impacts of the five generations we experience today.

The Veterans (sometimes called matures.) These folks were born between 1927 and 1945. They are dedicated, loyal and worried. What are they worried about? They are concerned about pensions, benefits, security and maintaining lifestyles. They are a wealth of knowledge, but they don’t always share that knowledge unless they are asked to do so. They expect to be rewarded, respected and recognized for their experience and longevity in the workplace. Employers need to be concerned about maintaining the engagement of veterans since they are working longer, returning from retirement and often hold the history of the workplace in their “heads and hearts.”

Veterans are uncomfortable and may disengage in work settings where:

However, veterans (matures) are highly engaged, energized and dedicated to settings where:

The “baby boomers” (post war boom.) Boomers have boomed since they were born in 1946 – 1964. They have been the largest segment of our population with the most influence for years. Now, they are getting attention for their imminent retirement. Research suggests that 30 – 35% of the population is boomers. As they retire, organizations are experiencing a huge loss in numbers, involvement, leadership and knowledge.

Boomers have focused on work to a large extent. They have been accused of living to work rather than working to live. They have always believed that the harder one works, the greater the rewards. They have always placed a great deal of value on promotions, raises, awards and achievements. They are quite stoical and do not expect rewards for doing the job day to day – only when they go beyond the standard or average, which they often do.

Because boomers encompass the biggest age range they are conditioned to expect and continue to expect to be the greatest influence in any setting. For years, they have been the target of marketing, advertising and the media. They are often surprised when there are influences other than their own.

Boomers often become disengaged in settings where:

Boomers are engaged and committed in settings where:

Generation X (Gen Xers) This interesting group was born between 1965 and 1977. They have always been concerned that the sheer numbers of boomers will prevent them from having enough influence. They want to move up fast, make more money and they feel resentment for the barriers and blockades created by baby boomers. They were impacted by dramatic societal changes of the 60’s and 70’s. Speed is of the essence. They experienced the McDonald’s Mentality – faster, easier, and cheaper!

Gen Xers will disengage in settings where:

Generation X will demonstrate endless effort, energy and commitment in settings where:

They expect to move in and out of the workplace regularly and be appreciated for the knowledge and diverse experience this allows them to bring to work. They want to work in environments with limited stress and minimal conflict.
Work has to be fun. They understand the importance of efficiency, effectiveness and economy. However, they want to balance it with enthusiasm, enjoyment and positive energy.

Millennials will become disengaged in setting where:

Millennials will become engaged involved and dedicated in settings where:

Generation “why” (extreme gamers). So, what about generation “why”? They are just entering the workplace and are sometimes lumped in with generation X and Millennials. This we know for sure. They are more comfortable with technology then any previous generation. They play with technology. Their parents believed they should “work hard and play hard.” Generation “why” asks why work and/or play should be hard? Indeed, they believe that work and play should go hand in hand and both should always have an element of fun most of the time. They don’t just ask “why” – they ask “why not?”

Generation “why” will disengage in work settings where:

Generation “why” will engage positively and productively in work settings where:

As we learn more about the diverse needs and interests of the intergenerational workgroup, we come to realize how exciting and interesting our workplace is becoming. Are we up to the demographic challenge?




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