Leading Gen Y’s in a Multi-Generational Workforce

April 4, 2012 - 7 minute read - Posted by

Today’s workplace looks and feels very different than it did only 10 years ago – if you haven’t noticed it already, there is a demographic shift of employees that has directly affected how and where we work. This shift is set to make waves for employers so in this blog post we will discuss this trend to help organization’s understand the implications and determine how they can proactively manage these changes.

The growing cohort of Gen Y’s are entering the workforce and making their mark (also called Millennials/Echo Boom/Net Generation). The Business and Professional Women’s Foundation estimates that by 2025, 75% of the global workforce will be Gen Y; moreover, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Generations X and Y will comprise 57% of the workforce by 2011 whereas Baby Boomers will make up 38%. We see that each age group has differing values, attitudes toward work, communication styles, and degrees of comfort with technology.


Major Differences Between Generations at Work:

Traditionalists (born before 1945) prefer consistency so we have seen them remain with one company over the course of their careers. They utilize a top-down management style that is traditional and hierarchical in nature (Allen, 2004). Moreover, this generation has no trouble taking change of the situation (Martin and Tulgan, 2004) and they respect authority in the workplace.

Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) choose one career path and usually remain with the same organization for many years. They value climbing the corporate ladder (with title and financial compensation) and measuring success materially; moreover, they appreciate recognition for long-term service. Boomers tend to implement a top-down management style, have been known to micro-manage, work long hours, believe in face-time at the office and many do not plan to retire at 65 (Francis-Smith, 2004). They prefer in-person communication versus relying on technology which they have not embraced as readily (BPW Foundation).

Gen X’ers (born between 1965 and 1980) more often choose independence and started the trend of the free-agent workforce. They are entrepreneurial and independent so we see them move through a couple of career changes with different companies. Research shows that they readily embrace change as well as technology; moreover, they tend to be results-focused and prefer specific and constructive feedback (Allen, 2004). Learning and development is important to this generation so they prefer a coaching management style (Martin and Tulgan, 2004).

Gen Y’s (born between 1980 and 1995) are the youngest generation in today’s workforce and their growing presence is already apparent. They have a much larger cohort than Gen X – almost double the size at 80 million. They believe career changing is inevitable and will make multiple changes to their career path. To illustrate this trend, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the average length of job tenure fell from 9.2 years in 1983 to 4.1 years in 2008. Like Gen Xers, they are looking for work-life balance; moreover, they have an altruistic focus for how they add value with organizations and want to engage in meaningful work. Gen Y’s are technologically connected and constantly plugged in with worldwide media (Lewis, 2003). They are also highly educated and ethnically diverse with more discretionary income as many of them have lived at home with their parents even after college. In terms of management styles, this generation responds well to an inclusive style of management, and they crave immediate feedback about performance (Francis-Smith, 2004).


Advantages of Intergenerational Teams:

  1. Hear different perspectives
  2. Challenge ourselves to look at a problem or issue from another lens
  3. Share professional and life experiences to continually learn and grow
  4. Knowledge transfer and succession planning
  5. This environment is condusive to mentorship and coaching (BPW Foundation)


Challenges with Intergenerational Teams:

Gaps in communication can lead to misperceptions on both sides:

  • Traditionalists and Boomers perceive that younger generations have an attitude problem, are demanding with short attention spans, don’t work normal hours so they must be slacking off, and dress inappropriately at work
  • Gen X’ers and Gen Y’s perceive that older generations don’t know how to socialize and aren’t tech-savvy, are resistant to change, and focus too much on ‘face-time’ versus being results-focused.


Strategies to Engage Different Generations:

Organizations need to harness the power of all generations to remain competitive:

  1. Acknowledge and bring awareness to intergenerational issues 
  2. Educate employees and managers on how to address these differences
  3. Adapt communication styles to meet the needs of all generations
  4. Establish multi-generational work teams
  5. Support performance management systems that connects with each generation (BPW Foundation) and (Eisner, 2005).


Conclusion – tapping into the Gen Y generation

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