Merging Mindsets: Generations in the Workplace

In sports coaching, there’s a strong emphasis on managing the transition between a roster of primarily experienced players who’ve achieved it all and the promising rookies who’ll succeed them.

It’s quite rare to see a team succeed consistently when it’s comprised entirely of one group or the other. Veteran players bring a wealth of experience but can be resistant to new ideas and approaches; young blood provides energy and athleticism, but is yet to be tempered with the level-headedness that comes with experience.

Great coaches and managers know the right blend of these demographics, how to keep everyone happy, and – most importantly – how to keep them playing like a unit.

Most businesses may not have the airtime of the NFL or the Premier League, but they certainly face similar challenges when it comes to managing their workforces.

Management Across Generations

There are as many as five distinct generations in the modern workforce, each with its own idiosyncrasies, such as how they resolve conflict, how they perceive the world, and how they expect to grow as professionals.

While these mindsets can sometimes be at direct odds with one another, businesses need a diverse mix of people in order to flourish.

Great workplaces welcome this multitude of perspectives on problem-solving, innovation, and growth. But go hands-off with managing multiple generations of employees, and these differences can create exactly the kind of friction that threatens a company’s health.

  • Traditionalists (born before 1946)
    • Highly focused on hard work and loyalty
    • Require conformity to rules
    • Most likely to take on mentorship roles
    • Want to feel valued for their experience
    • Believe in earning rewards and respect
  • Baby Boomers (b. 1946–1964)
    • Highly focused on salary and personal growth
    • Require collaborative leadership
    • Most likely to occupy leadership roles at enterprises
    • Want to work for leaders who earn their respect
    • Team-oriented and prioritize family
  • Generation X (b. 1965–1976):
    • Highly focused on salary and job security
    • Require a high degree of autonomy
    • Most likely to occupy leadership roles at fast-growth companies
    • Want the freedom to question decision-making
    • Adaptable and open to cross-skilling
  • Millennials (b. 1977–1997)
    • Highly focused on salary and work-life balance
    • Require open and active career pathways
    • Most likely to become entrepreneurs
    • Want to pursue personal interests or side hustles
    • Well-read and obsessed with learning
  • Gen Z (born after 1997)
    • High focus on salary and job security reflects debt culture
    • Require experiential evidence of values in practice
    • Most likely to embrace diversity & inclusion
    • Want meaning and impact from their work
    • Technology-centric and open to change

My Ally Note: Not everyone from the same generation shares the same characteristics or personality. Use these as guidelines to manage the individual, not the demographic.

Nurturing One Team

There are plenty of ways for HR leaders to cultivate a welcoming work environment for people from any and all generations. Here are three core areas you can prioritize to help build a “one team” mindset.

  • Hype up their shared values. Every generation might be different, but that’s not what you want to focus on. Instead, make it a point to highlight what everyone has in common, such as shared goals and values. And be sure to keep an ear out for language that reinforces stereotypes. When everyone is focused on what brings them together, collaboration and growth will follow.
  • Build mentorship programs. Nothing breaks down a wall between two employees from different times better than mentorship done right. This can even go both ways. If you have experienced employees teaching younger ones how to build a career, you can definitely have someone from Gen Z showing a Boomer how to maximize their impact using new media.
  • Beware of generational bias. It’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming everyone from a certain generation wants the same things. Every HR professional knows you need different approaches for younger employees with fewer commitments and someone in their 30s with a family. But flip that around for a moment; would you treat a 23-year-old with a family the same as one who’s single? The simple solution – treat employees like individuals, not members of a demographic.

Summary

By being aware of differences between generations but not assigning them an active role in the workplace, HR leaders can reduce the frequency of cross-generational conflict. The outcomes are tangible — better communication, less bad blood, lower attrition, and minimized financial and productivity loss arising from these problems.

Learn more about how My Ally can fuel your HR team’s ability to create candidate and employee experiences that resonate with cross-generational talent.

Ashwin Balakrishnan

Ashwin Balakrishnan writes copy and runs content at My Ally. In his spare time, he feeds his obsessions with sports biographies, Def Leppard, and Oxford commas.

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Diversity & Inclusion