Managing employees in a multi-generational workforce

With the appearance of the first Gen Z individuals mixed in with Gen X and Millennials, we are entering a very interesting phase of the multi-generational workplaces, says John Ryder.

The workplace is undergoing huge changes right now, as millions of baby boomers retire and Millennials move into management roles for the first time. But Millennials (or Generation Y) are by no means the only kids on the block, as we see Generation Z employees (born between 1994 and 2010) start to enter the workforce. With the appearance of these first Gen Z individuals mixed in with Gen X and Millennials, we are entering a very interesting phase of the multi-generational workplaces.

As these generations become increasingly separated along well-defined age bands, we are seeing employees in their 40s, 50s 60s, and possibly older, having to work and collaborate with much younger colleagues who have very different values and expect different ways of working. Business owners, managers and HR professionals are also required to communicate with and manage these distinct groups of individuals, while constantly being challenged to re-evaluate the way they engage with them.

But don’t be tempted to think in terms of stereotypes. If you think Gen Z is all about the technology, given that they are the first generation to have been born into the age of the internet, mobile phones and social media, think again. Recent studies have shown that Gen Z isn’t just about the technology. In fact, when it comes to the work environment, they prefer face-to-face contact, with regular feedback, and to collaborate with colleagues – despite being digital natives – according to a global study by Randstad. The study found that over half of Gen Z respondents prefer in-person communications with managers, as opposed to emails, phone or instant messaging.

For individuals that spend so much time on social media, this appetite for face-to-face interaction is not just surprising, but also an important consideration for managers, especially the next generation of Millennial managers, looking to engage with this new generation. Gen Z is also highly entrepreneurial, much like Millennial colleagues, and while collaboration is important, so is workplace flexibility, training and development, and the ability to share new ideas and contribute to the success of the business.

A more restless demographic

More likely to challenge traditional ways of doing things, this younger generation is likely to be more restless than older colleagues, and so more receptive to regular feedback and mentoring. At the same time, purpose and values are high on the priority list for Gen Z, which means that businesses need to be authentic if they want to attract the next generation of employees. There are still companies out there who claim to have values, but more often than not they are a poster on the reception wall or a page in the annual report. For Gen Z it cannot be a box ticking exercise – social awareness and corporate social responsibility is a big part of their lives and employers can hope to attract the best talent if they can show that values matter and are part of the company’s culture.

The Randstad study also points to honesty as the most important quality in a good leader, according to Generation Z and Millennials, as well as support and mentoring capabilities. The need to be honest is something that is core to employee engagement where honest and direct feedback is absolutely critical to positive communication and people development.

This applies not just to Generation Z, but also to Millennials, Generation X and Baby Boomers, who may have different attitudes to work, but who still expect honest feedback from their bosses. The difference is that when managers engage with a younger workforce, they will need to provide regular and instant feedback and ask for regular feedback from employees as well. This is expected of a generation of people who see social media and mobile technology as fundamental to their lives and where feedback is both instant and often brutally honest.

Are younger generations only motivated by how much they earn?

Something of a misconception, we assume younger generations are only motivated by how much they earn. Top incentives for Gen Z and Millennials is money, yes, but also opportunities for advancement and meaningful work. So while money is important, employers should look to emphasise the things that matter – career progression, values and culture, collaboration and the individual’s role in being part of the future success of the business.

All of this must be reinforced throughout the employee engagement process and as part of an overall HR strategy.

Businesses today are in a unique age of employment, juggling the needs and demands of up to four generations of employees. Never before has there been so much emphasis on getting it right for these distinct groups of people. But while each of them has different views on what they look for in a job, employee engagement remains core to people development and management.

Each company will be different and will have a very different make-up of people. Ultimately, the key is giving employees choice and choosing a path that best suits that organisation.

John Ryder is founder and CEO of Hive HR.

Further reading on generations in the workforce

Ben Lobel

Delphine Hintz

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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