The Modern Multi-Generational Workforce: The Highs and Lows

With five generations now in the workforce, companies are managing employees with a wider range of perspectives and experiences than ever before. Expert and seasoned Traditionalists are working past retirement age while digitally-savvy Gen Z enters the job market.

This multi-generational dynamic brings many advantages but also some potential pitfalls that managers need to thoughtfully navigate. First, let’s take a look at some of the valuable benefits of employing and catering to a wide range of ages and perspectives:

Stronger Bonds Through Mentorship

Multi-generational workplaces provide more mentorship opportunities. Seasoned employees can impart their specialized knowledge by coaching the younger hires. Younger digital natives can also reverse-mentor senior staff on using new technologies and tools. These relationships open opportunities for more collaboration across ages while allowing for reciprocal learning. Employees feel invested in each other’s growth and success, making for a more connected and motivated workforce.

Varied Perspectives Lead to Innovation

The most significant benefit of having a multi-generational staff is the diversity of viewpoints represented. Workers who grew up in different eras bring their own experiences, ideas, and approaches to solving problems. An age-diverse team can draw on more collective knowledge to devise creative solutions. Surveys show nearly 90% of employees also enjoy learning from co-workers of different ages and backgrounds.

However, with these amazing benefits come some brutal challenges. Let’s take a look at what you might be facing while leading a multi-generational workforce:

Many Different Needs and Goals

Varied life stages also mean diverse needs. Companies must provide supports relevant to workers at different points in their careers. For example, new Gen Z hires prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion policies. At the other end, some older employees appreciate wellness benefits and extended leave to care for family or experience life outside of work. At the end of the day, all employees want to be heard and respected, but trying to meet these disparate demands can prove especially challenging.

Overcoming Communication Barriers

Miscommunication can occur between generations accustomed to different styles. Some rely primarily on email, while others prefer in-person dialogue. Assumptions based on age can also lead to conflicts. Stereotyping groups, even with unconscious biases, breed resentment and conflict. While a strong foundation in communication standards can help, it’s important to understand what each generation is trying to say and how individually.

Discomfort Around Changing Leadership Norms

Reporting relationships spanning generations may also cause friction. Employees can be uneasy taking direction from significantly younger supervisors. Over 80% in one survey admitted difficulty having a younger boss. At the same time, younger generations may feel that a significantly older supervisor may not understand their needs or respect their viewpoints.

While a multi-generational workforce poses some hurdles, its diversity empowers teams to draw on various talents. It takes thoughtful policies and dialogue from leadership supporting employees at varying career stages. Companies can reap the rewards of age-inclusive collaboration with a little understanding, support, and creativity. To learn more about how to support and manage your multi-generational workforce, check out our program, Managing a Generational Mix: Increase Collaboration & Minimize Conflict.”