Generational differences influence how people communicate, think and work. Four active generations are in the workforce in 2023, each with unique characteristics and worldviews. For business owners and managers, it’s vital to understand the characteristics of each generation, including what motivates them and their communication style. Understanding your team will help you adapt your leadership style to utilize everyone’s talents to benefit your organization and other employees.
Various generations also have payment preferences, an important consideration for businesses. For example, Gen Zers are comfortable with mobile payment apps, while Gen Xers are heavy credit card users.
What is a multigenerational workforce?
A multigenerational workforce comprises workers from different generations. The generations are defined by significant world events that occurred during their lifetime, as well as the general parenting style of the time they were raised.
What generations are currently in the workforce?
As of 2023, workers from four generations are active in the workplace:
- Baby boomers
- Generation X
- Generation Z
Each generational cohort has unique characteristics, values and outlooks. Familiarizing yourself with each generation can help you create a collaborative, productive workplace.
Remember, these are generalizations. Employees are unique, and you should treat your employees as individuals first and foremost.
Baby Boomers (1946-1964)
Baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, are the oldest generation currently in the workforce in significant numbers, comprising 25 percent of the U.S. workforce, according to LiveCareer. (The previous generation, the Silent Generation, makes up only 2 percent of the workforce). They range in age from 59 to 77. Many boomers have retired or will soon retire, with the youngest boomers turning 65 (the retirement age) by 2029.
Here’s what you should know about boomers:
- The Vietnam War, the first civil rights movement and Watergate were significant world events that helped shape the baby boomer generation.
- Many baby boomers don’t have enough money saved for a comfortable retirement. Some baby boomers may work into their 70s.
- In terms of characteristics, boomers are generally known for:
- Being loyal to their employer
- Being self-motivated
- Having a strong work ethic
- Being competitive
- Being willing to make personal sacrifices for professional success
Tips for managing baby boomers
When working with boomers, provide clear, specific goals and deadlines; offer them mentoring opportunities where they can share their experience; and place them in settings that foster workplace teamwork.
When asked to self-assess their work skills, baby boomers ranked logical thinking first, followed by leadership skills.
Generation X (1965-1980)
Generation X, often referred to as “the middle child,” is the generation sandwiched between boomers and millennials; they make up a third of the workforce. Members of Gen X range in age from 43 to 58.
Here’s what you should know about Gen Xers:
- Significant world events that shaped Gen X include the AIDS epidemic, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the invention of the internet and the subsequent dot-com boom.
- Gen Xers are known for being:
- Direct in their communication style
- Adaptable to new technologies
- Steady and dependable
Tips for managing Gen Xers
Aim to be efficient, provide direct feedback, and offer them plenty of independence and autonomy to improve employee engagement.
Consider giving positions involving problem-solving to Gen Xers because this is at the top of their business skill set.
Millennials (also known as Gen Y) have been accused of being entitled, whiny and irresponsible, but the millennial generation has been influenced by drastic societal and socioeconomic changes.
As of 2023, millennials range in age from 27 to 42 and comprise the biggest group in the workforce, at 35 percent.
Here’s what you need to know about millennials:
- The major world events that defined the millennial generation include the Columbine shooting, 9/11 and the advent of the internet
- Some of the characteristics of millennial employees include that they are:
- Focused on work-life balance
- Open to seeking out unique work experiences
Tips for managing millennials
To attract and retain millennial employees, get to know them personally, communicate in depth about their progress and output, offer flextime and flexible work schedules, and provide the opportunity to work remotely.
Gen Z (1997-2012)
The newest members of the workforce, Gen Zers are the first true tech generation, having never known a world without the internet as it exists today. Gen Z is also known for being the most diverse generation in American history.
Here’s what you need to know about Gen Z:
- Major world events that defined Gen Z include exposure to violent incidents, significant technological advancements, social networking and the Great Recession.
- Gen Z’s major characteristics are that they are:
- Open-minded and progressive
- Individualist and creative
Tips for managing Gen Zers
When working with Gen Z, give them opportunities to multitask, provide lots of autonomy and self-direction, and offer a solid work-life balance.
For both millennials and Gen Z in the workplace, meaningful, purpose-driven work is crucial to job satisfaction.
What are the benefits of a multigenerational workforce?
A multigenerational workforce can be highly beneficial for your business. Some upsides include the following:
- A multigenerational workforce brings learning opportunities. Employees of different ages present unique opportunities to share experiences, ideas and thoughts. Combining multiple generations is an excellent way to problem-solve effectively and devise creative solutions to your company’s challenges.
- A multigenerational workforce fosters mentoring. You can create a mentorship program in a multigenerational workforce to match employees of different generations in partnerships. Mentorship programs are an excellent way to promote team bonding and share knowledge across generations.
- A multigenerational workforce lets you pool skills. Every generation introduces a skill set to the workplace. By sharing and using these skills with colleagues, your workers can learn from each other and enjoy increased productivity and efficiency.
- A multigenerational workforce Increases innovation. Diverse experiences lead to diverse ideas, increasing team innovation. With four generations’ worth of different life experiences and worldviews, everyone at your company is bound to have a unique point of view for every challenge you face.
What are the challenges of a multigenerational workforce?
However, managing a wide range of age groups and ensuring everyone’s needs are met can be difficult. You may face the following challenges:
- A multigenerational workforce brings varied work styles. Imagine you have a baby boomer employee who abides by a strict 9-to-5 workday and a Monday-to-Friday schedule with little deviation. You also have a millennial employee who works from home twice a week and leaves for an hour during the day to take their dog for a walk. How do you accommodate these working styles? It can be difficult to manage discrepancies across generations and still maintain fairness.
- A multigenerational workforce may support different values. Each generation prioritizes different values. For example, Gen X appreciates flexible working arrangements and promotional opportunities, while boomers value individuality and material success. Millennials like personal freedom and engaged workplaces, while Gen Zers prioritize creativity and progressive thinking. It can be challenging to meet everyone’s differing values and provide them with a supportive workplace.
- A multigenerational workforce has varying communication styles. Communication styles can significantly impact how your business runs. Each generation has different communication styles and preferences. For example, Gen Xers value efficiency, and their communication style can be direct. Millennials and Gen Z tend to use softer words to convey their point.
If you’re managing millennials and Gen Zers, focus on their similarities. For example, both value clear communication and consistent feedback and want to ensure they’re working for the greater good.
Best practices for managing a multigenerational workforce
Despite the challenges, business owners and managers can do much to ensure a positive and productive multigenerational workplace. Consider the following best practices:
- Be flexible when managing a multigenerational workforce. Flexibility is crucial when managing a multigenerational workforce – from working hours to communication styles. Creating a culture of flexibility inspires your employees to be flexible, helping to resolve disagreements or differing thoughts on how things should be done.
- Understand your employees when managing a multigenerational workforce. Get to know your employees as individuals, not just their generational characteristics. “My best advice for managing a multigenerational workforce is to listen and understand how your teams do their best work,” advised Miles Beckler, founder of and entrepreneur at MilesBecker.com. “Certain workers are very visual, while others are auditory or even social. Assigning people tasks that harmonize with their personal style, or putting them in teams that complement their skill sets, are important strategies for improving productivity.”
- Provide opportunities for employees to learn from each other. Each age group has a wealth of knowledge and experience, so creating knowledge-sharing channels is in your best interest. For example, create a mentorship program where baby boomers are paired with millennials or Gen Zers. Alternatively, support mutual mentorships, where members of two generations work together as a team. This can promote team bonding, help team members understand each other and increase employee engagement.
- Avoid stereotypes when managing a multigenerational workforce. Muhammad Shabbar, HR and admin manager at AI Manal Development, advises business owners to avoid generational stereotypes. “Regardless of generation, work harmony can be achieved if these assumptions are removed,” Shabbar noted.
- Tailor your communication methods to your multigenerational workforce. Since each generation tends to have its favored methods of communication (in person for boomers, email for Gen X), communicate with each of your team members according to their preferences. It may not seem like much, but it demonstrates your recognition of their preferences and that you value them.
Jennifer Dublino contributed to this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.