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Research Triangle Business Advisors

October 2014 Newsletter


In a couple of older newsletters I have touched on the issue of getting employees to succeed in achieving their goals – i.e. getting their work done. This month I take another look at that problem, but from the perspective of the multi-generational workforce. Today, the county’s workforce is made up of four generations of employees – Veterans, Baby Boomers, Generation Xers, and Millennials (Gen Yers). These groups all have clear, but different, characteristics, motivations, values and approaches to their work. This article is intended to help you manage better in this multi-generational work environment. 

  Bob De Contreras




How to Manage a Multi-Generational Workforce

In today’s multi-generational environment, and because of each generation’s uniqueness, it can seem as if we are not speaking the same language. This can lead to less teamwork, morale issues, and reduced productivity. In addition, many companies are seeing new hierarchies as millennials and Gen Xers manage baby boomers or veterans who return to the workplace after a period of retirement or who begin new jobs or careers after a lay off. This type of upside-down hierarchy can cause multi-generational friction.

On the other hand, the mix of generations in the company can be a huge advantage. Mixing veterans’ experiences and knowledge with millennials’ vitality, optimism, and technical expertise can greatly enhance the company’s bottom line. But, in order to capitalize on these advantages, managers must first learn to speak the language of each generation, and find out what they value, what motivates them, and what strengths and weaknesses they possess.

In the following sections I will first describe each of the generations and then bring it all together with a list of specific actions managers can use to realize the benefits of the multi-generational workforce.


Veterans were born before 1945. Veterans did not typically go to college.  Instead, they began working immediately after high school or military service. Income from a stable, solid employer, not necessarily personal fulfillment, was the driving force of most veterans. They came of age in an era in which it was typical for a person to work for a single company until retirement. Loyalty to their companies is a prime value for veterans. This generation respects the chain of command, they value experience in others and in themselves, and they appreciate dedication, loyalty, and hard work.

Managers of veterans are most successful when they:

  • Respect veterans for their experience, knowledge, and work-ethic.

  • Motivate veterans with extra benefits, like an increase in health insurance.

  • Respect the veterans place in the company’s hierarchy and the chain of command.

  • Value veteran politeness and punctuality.

  • Use veterans as coaches and mentors

Baby Boomers

Baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1964. They grew up during a period of national unrest, and this created a sense of strong individualism. As the baby boomers matured during the 1980s, they became known for prioritizing their careers ahead of their personal lives. Their children were the first generation of “latch-key kids” who had two parents working outside the home. Baby boomers tend to value personal connections with coworkers, put a lot of time and effort into their work, and expect their subordinates to do likewise. Unlike veterans, baby boomers are not opposed to job-hopping if it serves their interests.

Managers of baby boomers are most successful when they:

  • Motivate baby boomers with flexible work schedules and extra time off to care for children and aging parents (family).

  • Offer baby boomers opportunities to learn new skills and add to their resume strength.

  • Encourage baby boomers to work collaboratively and talk problems through with peers.

Generation X

Generation Xers were born between 1965 and 1980. As their baby boomer mothers increasingly entered the workforce, generation Xers became the first generation in which a significant number of children grew up in dual-income households. They learned to be independent, self-confident, creative, and comfortable on their own. At work, Gen Xers are independent, technology knowledgeable and strong multi-taskers. They do not see the value in frequent meetings when a weekly, or even daily, email update can provide the same information. This generation is motivated by extra time off rather than money and they place a premium on their personal lives. Many Gen X women are choosing to leave high-powered careers to focus on their families.

Managers of Gen Xers are most successful when they:

  • Offer Gen Xers opportunities to work independently and multitask.

  • Don’t require Gen Xers to attend too many meetings.

  • Give Gen Xers objectives for their work rather than micromanaging them.

  • Recognize that Gen Xers appreciate candor and delivering any criticism plainly and directly.


Millennials or Generation Yers were born after 1980. This generation saw the return to child-centered households as many late baby boomers and early Gen Xers chose to focus on family rather than their careers. Many millennials have relationships with their parents that are characterized by friendship, and because of this they expect to be treated as equals in the workplace. Millennials are the most technologically centered generation in companies today, because they grew up with much of the technology that fills the work environment today. They tend to need more feedback, more frequently than their Gen X predecessors, and they often need tasks carefully described and outlined. They prefer to work in teams and are very flexible.

Managers of millennials are most successful when they:

  • Give millennials frequent feedback about their work, both positive and negative.

  • Provide millennials with detailed instructions for tasks.

  • Remember that millennials tend to value their personal lives more than their jobs and that, unlike baby boomers; they have no trouble letting their bosses know this.

  • Take advantage of how much millennials value their parents’ wisdom and experience by matching them with older, experienced mentors.

  • Make sure millennials have the opportunity to work with the latest technology.

Bringing it all together

  1. Companies or managers who are trying to change people’s behavior from one generation type or behavior to another will fail because the generational style was set or ingrained over many years of the person’s youth. Therefore, the only way to reap the benefits of the multi-generational workforce is for the management team to recognize the differences listed above and manage each employee with the appropriate style for the employee’s generation type.

  2. Don’t confuse character issues like immaturity, laziness or stubbornness with generational traits. Consider that baby boomers may see a 60-hour work week as a prerequisite to achieving success, but many hard-working millennials prefer a more balanced life that includes reasonable working hours, some occasional overtime, and weekends off. The millennials may also voluntarily choose to make up the time in unstructured settings like working at a Starbucks on weekends.

  3. Some Gen Yers need help in understanding basic business or office etiquette as they enter the workforce where they are no longer the focal point of attention. For some Gen Yers, this may be the first time that they have had controls placed on them. Baby boomer managers can help the transition of Gen Yers to the workforce and gain their employee’s acceptance by explaining the company’s general standards of behavior with the reasons for these standards.

  4. Expectations are hard to manage and different generations have different workplace expectations.  However, Baby boomer and Gen Yer conflict does not have to continue. When baby boomer managers understand these differences, they can both adapt their own interaction style and educate others to promote organizational productivity. These generations do not have to continue to collide in the workplace.

  5. Facilitate mentoring between different generation employees to encourage more cross-generational interaction. Younger employees should learn to seek the experience and wisdom offered by older employees. Older employees should learn to be open to the perspectives of younger employees.

  6. Offer different working options like telecommuting and working offsite. Focus on the results employees produce rather than on how they get it done. This will give employees some flexibility on how they want to work and put everybody, regardless of where they spent their time working, on the same scale for measuring results.

  7. Accommodate different learning styles. Baby boomers favor more traditional and static training methods like Power Point presentations and guide books, while younger workers may gravitate towards more interactive, technology-based, self-paced learning.

  8. Keep employees engaged. Provide regular education and training opportunities as well as career advice to keep all workers invested in the company. Satisfy the high expectations of ambitious millennials with special assignments that are outside of their job responsibilities. Consider putting them on a task force to solve a problem or establishing a social networking presence for the company.

  9. Open up the office. Millennials generally don’t work well under a rigid management structure. They prefer open collaborations that allow employees to share information and for everybody to contribute to decision-making. Assign work to teams of employees and have the teams present innovations to the entire department or company. Take advantage of the millennials’ preference for teamwork and encourage more team spirit throughout the company.

  10. Give all employees a voice. Regardless of age and tenure, give all employees a forum in which to present ideas, concerns and complaints. Managers should facilitate open communication throughout the company and set aside time to provide honest feedback.

  11. Don’t apply a single communication-method policy. Baby boomers prefer to communicate by phone or in person. Millennials grew up being in constant communication with peers and coworkers so they prefer emailing and texting.


Yes, it’s a very complex topic with no clear way to start improving the multi-generational workforce.  You may have noticed that several of the eleven suggestions above are focused on baby boomers and millennials.  That is because these two generations make up the majority of today’s workforce.  So, start there – focus on some of the recommendations that improve the environment for these two generations.


Cary | Raleigh | Research Triangle Park | Greensboro | North Carolina
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