Article: The new management challenge: Leading different generations


The new management challenge: Leading different generations

If an organisation can enable varied age-groups to work together, productivity can be maximised

The baby boomers generally exhibit more corporate loyalty and have no problems with obeying organisational rules


Managers need to be flexible enough to adapt to these variations in order to get each employee to perform to his or her maximum potential


We are all aware of tensions that can exist within the family which are rooted in the generation gap between grandparents, parents and children. These pressures, if not understood and checked in their initial stages, can lead to major problems and endanger the closeness of the family unit. Now, transplant the same situation in a workplace where teenagers just out of school have to work with people their parents’ or grandparents’ generation - without the accompanying ties of blood and familial loyalty. One can then begin to understand the special challenges faced by leaders and managers looking to ensure organizational harmony and maximizing productivity in the complex and dynamic organism that is the new multi-generation workplace.

Groups of employees from a number of different age groups, with dissimilar, often conflicting values, viewpoints and priorities trying to work towards a common goal are bound to create friction in an organization. The accompanying peculiarities of attitude, expectations and work ethics can lead to an organization being pulled in opposite directions. While admitting that such discord can also be caused by idiosyncrasies in individual personalities, one has to concede that to managers of a mixed generation organization face certain characteristic obstacles in ensuring a harmonious work environment.

Generation in our current workplace
These obstacles can be best understood by examining at the four distinct populations of employees based on their age. These groups are:

• The so called ‘Silent Generation’ (born 1925-45) – often working after retirement age. This group is characterized by the great emphasis placed by them on loyalty, hard work, discipline and respect for authority. Employees of this age group most easily identify with seniority based systems.

• The ‘Baby Boomers’ (b. 1946-64) - This category of workers are generally at the peak of their careers and often hold senior management positions. Typically they are ambitious, career orientated and competitive.

Generation X (b. 1965-82) workers seek autonomy, versatility and flexibility and place a premium on work-life balance, growth opportunities and good relationships with colleagues.

Generation Y, also known as Millennial, (b. 1983 onwards) characteristically look for autonomy and reinforcement in their jobs. They prefer fun and informal workplaces and just like Gen X’ers also put family and personal pursuits before career and look for the flexibility to help them achieve the right balance.

The baby boomers generally exhibit more corporate loyalty and have no problems with obeying organizational rules than the younger employees. Gen X and Y see hard work as output based and not related to the hours you put in. Younger members of the organization embrace technology, flexible work schedules and prefer performance based pay strategies whereas older employees like a stable paid salary structure. Dynamics in a team are also affected by the age of the team members. Older emplooyees place a great importance on working well with others, baby boomers often prefer to be lone rangers and the youngest are the most comfortable working in teams.

Managers need to be flexible enough to adapt to these variations in order to get each employee to perform to his or her maximum potential. A good start would be to understand the perspectives and motivations of each generation based on research conducted on the four distinct populations. By becoming aware of the fundamental reasons for individual behavior, leaders can use it to inspire cooperation, commitment and teamwork. An ability to analyze conflicts stemming from generational differences will aid in the development of plans that nips such problems in the bud. On a personal level for managers it is necessary to work on more effective communication with employees older or younger than themselves. On a company wide level they can use communication and influence techniques for mixed generation audiences. By concentrating on the above one can develop management tools and techniques that can address the needs of different generations of workers.

Overcoming these Challenges
There are several measures which can help managers to rise to the particular challenges posed by mixed-age workforces.

  • Promoting respect for the other groups. It is very common, for example, for older employees to not take their younger colleagues’ suggestions and ideas seriously – the so called ‘What do they know’ syndrome. On the other hand the youngsters lack the patience required in dealing with their older counterparts and often see their views as old fashioned and therefore obsolete. It is extremely important for the company leaders to emphasize that each generation brings its own worthwhile skills and abilities to the organization, and that no one perspective or background is better or more significant than the other.
  • Introducing short term projects with a mixed age group will give individuals a chance to get over their ignorance about the other groups and hence foster understanding and respect.
  • Mentoring across the generational divide is another measure that would contribute to harmony by promoting an exchange of ideas and perspectives.
  • Rather than brushing such conflicts under the carpet one has to ensure that staff is given the opportunity to talk openly about their grievances or frustrations. A healthy airing of these issues will go a long way in identifying and sorting out differences.
  • Finally it is crucial to emphasize the common focus of the organization and minimize the individual differences within its component groups. Identifying with a common ground is likely to foster better understanding and lead to more productive relationships.



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Topics: Diversity, Employee Engagement, Leadership

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