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March 9, 2015

Successfully Managing Four Generations (Without Pulling Your Hair Out)

surprised_man-1Once upon a time, older employees were the bosses, and the younger employees took direction and didn’t challenge the status quo.

That setup has been blown to smithereens recently.

Today’s workforce is benefitting from and being challenged by 4 generations of workers. In American history, we have never seen this occur. There are no current rules as to how to handle this, so managers are faced with challenges from employees who possess vastly different upbringing, points of view, and modes of thinking.

Here are 4 challenges managers must consider when managing four generations in the workplace:

#1:  Communication styles. Being able to effectively communicate, or failing to do so, can make or break a business.  People tend to communicate based on their generational background. An effective manager will need to be able to coach the generations on how to convey their thoughts and ideas so the other generations are receptive to them. This will help in creating workplace harmony.

#2: Communication modes. In addition to styles, different communication modes must also be addressed. Older employees may prefer a face-to-face conversation, while Millennials want to text or email.  Managers must be thoughtful in handling cross-generational teams and their communication mode issues that inevitably arise.

#3:  Attitudes toward work. Each generation harbors distinctive and contrasting viewpoints regarding work. The Silent Generation holds a great loyalty to their employer, while Gen X views work as a means to an end. Boomers tend to be workaholics, while Millennials crave and expect creativity.  Left to their own devices, the four generations will likely experience extensive and disruptive conflict in regards to their dramatically different interpretations of the workplace.

#4: Opinions on rewards. This is a big consideration for managers of multiple generations, because each generation prefers and expects different types of rewards.  For example, a cash bonus for a successful project completion may thrill a Silent Generation employee, while the Generation X employee may complain that it should have been paid last quarter, when the project was completed.  A Generation X manager may reward a Boomer with a week off, when the workaholic boomer finds no value in that, and would rather have cash.  A Millennial would rather have meaningful, creative projects available to them than any other reward!

PartnershipToday’s managers are facing sizable challenges in creating workplace harmony with four generations of workers. Here are 4 ways to successfully managing four generations (without pulling your hair out):

  • Taylor your message and rewards. Since each generation views rewards differently, why not give an option? Offer a week of vacation, a cash bonus, or some extra paid training at a seminar of their choice. Let them decide how they wish to be rewarded.
  • Consistently promote tolerance and understanding. People tend to be more comfortable with each other if the ‘know where the other is coming from’.  Conduct cross-generational information sharing sessions. By allowing each generation to share their attitudes and opinions, all employees will be more likely to meet each other half way.
  • Hire individuals who are a cultural fit. It’s paramount when trying to build a team to begin registering the candidate’s attitudes before hiring.  Bring a person who is from a different generation than you into the interview process, and see how the candidate reacts and responds. Also add assessment testing into the screening process, to see if their attitudes could hinder their success in your workplace.
  • Implement two-way mentoring. Mentoring programs yield fantastic results, and two-way mentoring is a chance for different generations to learn the positive aspects of each.  A Silent generation employee can teach an X’er about company loyalty. A Gen Y’er can pass along some technical skills to Boomers. This type of climate fosters the idea that everyone has something positive to offer.

The challenge of managing four generation of workers is real and valid. By being aware of the wants and needs of each generation, and putting actions into place to promote understanding and cooperation, smart managers can build cross-generational teams that are effective and successful.



American Management Association,

FDU Magazine,


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