Managing a Generational Workforce


October 4, 2018

For the first time in history five generations occupy the workplace The Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y, and Generation Z. The combination of individuals whose age span 50 years can be powerful as see in the Ann Hathaway Robert di Nero movie The Intern. The movie showcases Robert di Nero’s character, a member of the Silent Generation becomes an intern for Ann Hathaway’s character, a member of Generation Y. The mixing of these two generations initially proves challenging because of differences such as work style, and communication, eventually the differences are leveraged for success.

Generations are cohorts of individuals born during a 15-20 year span and have experienced similar events during their formative years that shape general beliefs and values. Events such as the civil rights movement, the assignation of MKL and JFK, the Challenger explosion, Columbine, 9/11, the 2008 economic downturn, and technological advances impact all individuals, yet to individuals in their formative years is impact is foundational.

By 2020 Generation Y or often called the Millennial Generation will comprise fifty percent of the US workplace. Much generational discussion today centers around differing work style, communication style and value structure of the Millennials.  The Baby Boomers constructed the environments many of us work in today such as work days, work weeks, vacation policies, and compensation structures. When Generation X entered the workforce the workplace remained mostly unchanged. Individuals could “request” modifications such as flex time, work sharing schedules or family time off, yet the sheer lack of numbers from this generation impacted only sporadic change.

Generation Y is unwilling to work in an environment that won’t adapt to its needs. Baby Boomers and Generation Y are essentially the same size –74.9 million versus 75.4 million respectively. Generation Y’s size threatens organizational structures with demanding work style differences. Millennials garner power behind its large numbers and its relationship to work is completely different than the generations before. Organizations all over are looking for a magic solution to get “them” to adhere to current work environments. Instead, managers must realize them– not the Millennials who must change. Millennials will not conform to the work/life balance of their parents who were Baby Boomers. They demand different work environments, different compensation structures, and different opportunities. Individuals from this generation are less interested in health care, vacations spaced six months apart or lifelong employment. Millennials can stay on their parents’ healthcare plans until age 26, adventure vacations require several weeks of vacation, and 3-5 years is the planned tenure with any one company.

Millennials seek a work/life balance on their terms not one set by their parents, they want options when it comes to compensation packages, they crave community both in and out of the workplace, and are unaccustomed to consequences. They are curious to understand the “why” of their work. They are driven to understand the purpose of their work in relation to the bigger picture. Managers who understand Millennials will be rewarded with a creative, excited and unique workforce. Managing a multi-generational workforce presents challenges yet once clearly understood, the differences can be leveraged for great outcomes