Understanding Your Multigenerational Workforce Makes You a Better Leader

With the looming Baby Boomer Brain Drain, it’s more important than ever for companies to understand who makes up their workforce in order to make the most of what they bring to the table. With insight into who they are, how they’re different, and how they may be the same, you’ll become a better leader and help your company in the process. Let’s dig into the dynamics involved with the help of “A Guide to Leading the Multigenerational Workplace.”

Defining Generational Differences

There are four generations within today’s workforce, and they each offer unique contributions to the business environment: Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials, and Gen Zers.

Baby Boomers

Currently making up almost thirty percent of the workforce, nearly 70 million are expected to retire over the next decade. A few key characteristics of baby boomers are that they:

· Are high in company loyalty

· View their professional lives as careers more than jobs

· Have a strong work ethic that’s motivated by rank, wealth, and prestige

· Adept with technology, but prefer face-to-face communication

· Are strong team players and focused on customer service

· Were the first to create a “work-life balance” focus

It will be critical to capitalize on their willingness to share their expertise with younger generations, making a successful mentoring program essential.

Generation X

Making up 32 percent of the workforce, this “Sandwich Generation” is somewhat overshadowed by the size of the generations before and after. Key traits of Generation Xers are that they:

· Are highly independent

· Seek ongoing training and new growth opportunities

· Value authentic, “hands-off” management styles

· Are highly regarded for their entrepreneurial abilities

· Desire optimal flexibility in how they accomplish outcomes

· Are committed to work-life balance, and willing to work less to achieve it

When it comes to generating revenue and building teams, members of Generation X are viewed by their multi-generational peers as the experts.


Currently accounting for about 34 percent of the workforce, the percentage of millennials in this environment is expected to grow to 75 percent by 2025. The first digital natives, they’re used to 24/7 internet access, which impacts how they communicate, research, and have relationships with others. Other unique features of millennials are that they:

· Embrace diversity and are the most ethnically diverse generation

· Value social responsibility

· Desire work that’s meaningful and makes them feel part of the organization’s mission

· Value helping others more than receiving a high salary

· Want a work-life balance and a voice in achieving it

· May seek new employment opportunities to achieve expectations for work-life balance

Since they’ll occupy such a large part of the future workforce, millennials are key players in knowledge-transfer initiatives and ongoing company success.

Generation Z

The oldest members of Generation Z are just beginning to enter the workforce. The most technologically savvy generation, many spend nearly all of their waking hours on some connected device. Other key traits of Generation Zers are that they:

· Are highly focused on having a positive impact on the world

· Believe having a positive impact may trump the importance of employment status

· Possess high entrepreneurial aspirations—72 percent want to own businesses, and 3 percent already do

· Are highly engaged in sharing the details of their lives and typically do that online

With their advanced technological skills and high entrepreneurial aspirations, many members of Generation Z are the potential leaders of the future.

Defining Generational Similarities

Now that we’ve examined how the four generations are different, it’s important to understand how they’re also similar in order to create the well-oiled synergy that will make your team hum.

In his research, Ben Rosen, Ph.D., discovered some key features that the multiple generations have in common:

· Support of organizational success—they all wanted stable employment and expressed a strong commitment to good employers who provide it

· Agreement on what makes a good leader—they all felt the following ingredients were important:

· Leadership by example

· Accessibility

· Ability to help others by framing roles in terms of organizational contributions

· Ability to be a coach and mentor

· Ability to challenge others and hold them accountable

· Desire for career success—including new challenges and opportunities for advancement

· Recognition that future challenges are inevitable and unpredictable.

By defining and supporting the similarities between multiple generations in the workforce, leaders can make the most of existing dynamics and create more effective results.

Strategies for Leadership Success

While it’s important to understand the nuances of each generation, experts caution against overgeneralization, which can lead to stereotypes that may hamper your efforts. The key is to understand both the impact that generational influences may have, as well as the unique needs of each individual. With such a comprehensive approach, you can take a few strategic steps toward creating a roadmap for success:

· Communicate according to specific preferences, keeping needs and styles in mind

· Recognize and reward with incentives that align with identified values

· Create programs that support cross-generational teamwork and knowledge sharing

· Build comprehensive diversity into teams—including age, gender and culture

· Encourage flexibility in leadership styles across the board to meet employee needs

By understanding the multigenerational workforce within your ranks, and arming yourself with a strategic plan, you can become a better leader and help secure your company’s future while you’re at it.

Alison Napolitano is the community content manager for [email protected], UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School’s online MBA program. Connect with Alison on twitter at @anapio7.