Engaging and Managing a Multigenerational Workforce

Jun 7, 2023

It’s a longstanding joke that every generation is suspicious of the ones that follow it—and rolls its eyes at the ones that preceded it. And of course there are stereotypes galore: Boomers are terrible with technology, Generation X hates everything, and Millennials are entitled. True, each generation has its own personality and psychology, shaped in large part by that era’s world events, economic conditions, social trends, and cultural norms. But individuals don’t slot into neatly defined categories. Making generational assumptions isn’t just unrealistic—it’s risky, too.

Five generations are currently in the workforce: Generation Z, Millennials, Generation X, Baby Boomers, and the Silent Generation. This is a first in modern history. An employer today could very well have recent graduates working alongside people who are great-grandparents. Today’s managers need to toss aside generational stereotypes and learn how to engage all generations. When leaders understand how to manage diverse and inclusive workplaces, their organizations enjoy increased employee retention rates, higher revenue growth, and a greater readiness to innovate.


4 Multigenerational Workforce Challenges (and How to Overcome Them)

The days of one-size-fits-all management are long gone. Workplaces are becoming more diverse in ethnicity (with 47 percent identifying as nonwhite, Generation Z is tracking to be the most ethnically diverse workforce yet[1]) and, with employees from up to five generations working side by side, in age as well. The range of priorities, expectations, and experiences that employees bring to the workplace is now wider than ever. The challenges of this workforce fall mostly into four categories.


Differing priorities

The employees in a multigenerational workforce span the full range of life stages. Some are raising young kids, whereas others are caring for ailing parents. Some are in new relationships, whereas others are going through divorces. Some are shopping for their first homes, whereas others are researching retirement options.

Whatever is going on in employees’ lives, it’s important that companies don’t treat one life stage as more important than another. For example, it’s great to offer schedule flexibility to working parents, but employees without families should have access to it as well.


Stereotypes and assumptions

Just as people should never stereotype based on race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation, they shouldn’t stereotype based on age, either. Generational acceptance and sensitivity should be part of any company’s diversity, equity, inclusiveness, and belonging (DEIB) initiatives in both manager-employee relationships and in peer-to-peer relationships. Avoiding stereotypes involves acknowledging and exploring the similarities between generations. For example, it’s a common assumption that Baby Boomers are keen to return to the office post-Covid and younger generations want to continue with remote or hybrid work arrangements, but in fact workplace flexibility is universally desired across all the generations.



Over the years, workplace communication has changed dramatically—and rapidly—and now includes elements such as slang, phone calls, e-mail, texting, and emojis. Variations in understanding and expectations can affect how employees use different media and how they interpret messages. Baby Boomers who relied on phone calls and in-person meetings for most of their careers, for example, might find texts and FaceTime calls jarring; at the same time, “it would be quicker to pick up the phone” doesn’t necessarily resonate with the members of Generation Z. Older generations might view sentences without end punctuation as “sloppy” writing, but to younger generations sentence-ending periods convey a passive-aggressive or angry tone.

Setting rigid communication rules won’t resolve communication gaps between generations. Because communicating in just one style can exclude entire generations, it’s important to use multiple communication methods. Savvy managers will take note of how each individual responds to different communications, then use the ones that enable them to best connect with their workforces.


“Us versus them” attitudes

Younger generations may feel nervous asking questions of their older colleagues—or think that they need to prove themselves. At the same time, older generations may feel a need to coddle younger colleagues—or may simply dismiss them as inexperienced. Managers of multigenerational workforces should keep an eye out for such power dynamics, especially in meetings: if they observe that someone’s contributions to a discussion aren’t being taken seriously, this is a good opportunity for them to be allies and make spaces for their employees to speak up. They should remind their staff that it’s good to have a variety of opinions and that they are all collaborators, not opponents.


How to Engage a Multigenerational Workforce

To keep a multigenerational workforce engaged and productive, organizations should foster a culture of trust and communication and implement strategies that help every generation feel seen and heard.


Have regular check-ins

Managers should make it a habit to check in regularly with their employees—and be sure that those check-ins aren’t just about work. Learning about what is happening in each employee’s life not only creates trust in the workplace but also makes it easier to offer benefits that specifically suit them (rather than generic perks that are designed to have broad appeal to their generation).


Clear up miscommunication

Because it’s easy for employees from different backgrounds or age groups to have vastly different interpretations of the same message, managers should ensure that everyone understands different communication styles and how they can be misinterpreted. At the same time, though, managers should keep in mind that although it’s important to understand generational differences, it’s equally vital to ensure that this knowledge doesn’t give rise to ageism and to recognize that each person—no matter when they were born—has their own communication preferences.


Capitalize on each generation’s skills and knowledge

Every generation brings to the workplace a unique life experience informed in part by the skills its members learned in school, the world events they witnessed, and a host of other factors. Organizations should find ways to help each generation thrive in the areas it already knows, as well as learn new skills from the generations that preceded and followed it.

For example, social media is often flagged as something that younger generations raised on memes can teach to older generations. Knowledge transfers can go both ways, though: the members of Generation Z who entered a remote workforce during the pandemic might feel challenged to develop and use interpersonal skills such as negotiating, networking, and confident public speaking that they can learn from their older colleagues. A mentorship program in which senior employees can nurture and guide their younger coworkers not only gives younger generations the feedback they crave but also helps people connect and see past their differences.


Skip the stereotypes

Some Baby Boomers are tech-savvy. Some Millennials dislike working remotely. Some Generation Z employees are already parents. Although the members of each generation have some characteristics and life stages in common, they also exhibit endless variations in interests, capabilities, and life experiences. Managers should encourage open and honest conversations in the workplace about age stereotypes and create opportunities for employees to collaborate and socialize across the generations and beyond their usual teams or social circles. Nonhierarchical check-ins and mentorships (both older-to-younger and younger-to-older) will give employees opportunities to share their stories and perspectives and can foster understanding across the generations.


Provide inclusive benefits

Some benefits, such as fertility benefits and parental leave, are generally (though not exclusively) geared to one generation. But there are countless ways for employers to ensure that their benefits span the full age ranges of their employees. For example, a company could provide paid time off for pet owners who don’t have “traditional” caregiving needs but need to care for a sick pet—a benefit that could help employees of all ages.


Be a leader for all

Each generation wants different things from its leaders. For example, Millennials often desire managers who can connect employees to a common purpose, Generation X frequently seeks role models who can roll up their sleeves and solve challenging problems, and Baby Boomers admire leaders as socially distant strategic thinkers. Managers of multigenerational workforces must keep these varying expectations top of mind. Although it’s impossible to be everything to everyone all the time, managers who have an awareness of what each generation wants in a leader and strives to meet those expectations will have more success in keeping employees engaged.


Looking Ahead

Although generational trends will continue to drive workplace recruitment and retention strategies, leaders’ top priority should always be to fully engage each person as a unique individual. With more generations than ever working side by side, employers are positioned to create strong, innovative teams rich with diverse thought, experience, and expertise. Organizations should look at the best traits that each generation—and each individual—brings to the table and then adapt accordingly.

[1] Claire Hastwell. 2022. ‘What Gen Z Wants from Employers.” Great Place to Work blog, March 9, www.greatplacetowork.com/resources/blog/what-gen-z-wants-from-employers-in-2021.

Written by: Claire Hastwell

Subscribe to HR Connection

HR Connection Subscribe