When multiple generations collide, it can serve as inspiration for our most innovative ideas — but it can also create tension if those ideas conflict.
World-renowned chef Massimo Bottura, for example, drew on fond memories of his grandmother’s kitchen when crafting his now famous dish “Tortellini Walking on Broth.” It has just six pieces of pasta, a small portion intended to make guests pause so they can savor each bite. But tortellini is a staple Italian dish, flavorful and filling, so his spin on it initially scandalized the old guard in Italy.
In your own workplace, you’ll have employees from up to five different generations bringing their own ideas and opinions to the table. While they might have differing viewpoints and working habits, they each have something unique that can teach, challenge, and inspire their teammates.
When you lead your multi-generational team towards collaboration and understanding, you can create something worth savoring, just like Massimo Bottura. Let’s dive into what you need to know about maximizing this dynamic.
What Does a Multi-Generational Workforce Mean?
In the simplest terms, a multi-generational workforce is any team with employees from at least two different age groups. Typically, the teams you’ll see include members from:
- Baby Boomers (born 1946–1964)
- Generation X (born 1965–1980)
- Millennials/Generation Y (born 1981–1996)
- Generation Z (born 1997–2012)
The Silent Generation (1928—1945) also makes up a very small percentage of today’s workforce.
This means that within the same office, you’ll have people with different sets of values, experiences, and life perspectives. And while each generation can certainly learn from one another, differences in worldviews and motivating factors can generate some turbulence.
For example, Baby Boomers are often thought of as hard-working, loyal team members who may be less comfortable with technology. On the other hand, Gen Zers tend to be tech-savvy and more independent workers who are more than happy to hop from job to job for the sake of career growth.
Fortunately, by understanding the typical characteristics of each generation, you can create an effective and collaborative workplace that harnesses the strengths of each generation’s learnings.
What is Each Generation Like in the Workplace?
Since each generation comes with its own unique set of values, it’s important to understand what they look like when they come to work. Here are some common traits within each age bracket:
- Baby Boomers: These older workers often have a high degree of satisfaction and a strong loyalty to their job and employer, as well as a dedicated work ethic. They may be slower to adopt new technologies, but they often bring a wealth of knowledge and experience thanks to their long tenure in the workplace.
- Generation Xers: Often seen as bridge builders between the Baby Boomers and Millennials, Generation X is known for its focus on efficiency, problem-solving, and making money while still maintaining their work-life wellness. Gen Xers ranked themselves as the top generation in problem-solving skills, according to LiveCareer’s 2023 Different Generations in the Workplace Study.
- Generation Y/Millennials: Millennials are often seen as ambitious, tech-savvy, and hard-working members of the team, but they don’t find meaning at work as often as older generations. They’re also open to changes in the workplace and prefer a flexible work environment so they can focus on both personal development and career growth.
- Generation Zers: Gen Zers are tech-native and independent, wanting to be recognized for their work and innovations. They rated themselves as the most computer literate group in LiveCareer’s 2023 Different Generations in the Workplace Study. They’re highly collaborative workers who need clear expectations from their employer in order to stay motivated and keep up with their job.
Benefits of a Multi-Generational Workforce
Although managing a multi-generational workforce can be challenging, it also offers some great benefits. Here are just a few of the advantages of having an age-diverse team:
- Varied perspectives and ideas: Having workers from multiple generations provides more diverse insights and solutions. By drawing on the experiences and perspectives of different age groups, teams can tackle challenges more effectively and come up with creative solutions. And the vast majority of people want to share their knowledge with their colleagues — about 88% of people responding to LiveCareer’s survey agreed with this.
- Improved team dynamics: Different age groups bring different working styles to the table. This dynamic encourages flexibility in how a team works together, leading to better collaboration and communication between workers of all ages. A recent college grad and an employee with 35 years of work experience might find they have a lot in common through an employee resource group, for instance.
- Optimism among team members: Employees of all ages generally value multi-generational workplaces and enjoy working with coworkers from different backgrounds and age groups. Nearly90% of respondents to LiveCareer’s study said that they thought of generation and age diversity in the workplace as a positive. Another 87% said that they saw it as a chance for people from different generations to learn from one another.
- Enhanced leadership capabilities: A multi-generational workforce provides a great opportunity for experienced workers to mentor younger team members. This arrangement can help strengthen bonds and open up learning opportunities between mentors and mentees, while also building a more collaborative company culture. And if you’re looking to grow leadership skills among younger employees, you can try a reverse mentoring approach. Here, younger workers are paired with executive leaders to exchange ideas and help them understand cultural issues.
Challenges of a Multi-Generational Workforce
Even with all the benefits, there can be some drawbacks to having a multi-generational workforce. Here are a few things to watch out for:
- Miscommunication and misunderstandings: Communication styles and preferences are very real for every employee. Some people prefer to communicate over email or text, while others may prefer face-to-face conversations or phone calls. This can lead to misunderstandings and communication breakdowns if employees can’t connect through their preferred channels.
- Harmful stereotypes about other generations: It can be easy to slip into outdated stereotypes or assumptions about certain age groups, and in a lot of cases, the differences are just flat out overstated. Instead of focusing on differences due to age and life stages, you can try creating an open dialogue about shared experiences to make sure everyone is treated with respect.
- Sufficiently supporting each generation’s values and needs: Different generations have different needs and expectations from their employers. Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging should be an important focus in every workplace, but it’s a particularly deep sticking point for Gen Zers. On the flip side, offering benefits like menopause support or grandparents’ leavecan help you retain older employees. It can be hard for companies to meet or balance these varied demands for different salaries, benefits, and perks.
- Discomfort around leadership roles: Everyone has their own ideas about who should be in leadership roles and how they should manage the team. But there can be an extra layer of uneasiness when an employee is older than their supervisor. Over 80% of respondents said they agree that they find it hard to have a younger person as their manager, according to LiveCareer.
Create a Culture of Positivity and Belonging for Every Worker
While each of your employees may have different working styles, communication preferences, and professional goals, one thing remains constant: they each deserve to feel valued and supported at work. Try looking for ways to encourage teamwork and help employees grow their own skills to stoke that sense of belonging for everyone.
One way you can positively impact your culture for every employee, regardless of generational gaps, is through a corporate wellness program. You can help your workers address their own health and fitness needs, and they can even tailor their plan to their unique wellbeing journey. Wellness programs that address physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing are a great option for helping your multi-generational workforce prioritize self-care, knock out goals, and thrive in and out of work.
Learn more about how to structure your wellness package by speaking to one of our wellbeing specialists!
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- Szczepanek, Agata. (August 3, 2022.) Different Generations in the Workplace | 2023 Study. LiveCareer. Retrieved March 20, 2023 from https://www.livecareer.com/resources/careers/planning/generation-diversity-in-the-workplace
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- Alton, Liz. How Reverse Mentoring Can Help Promote Generational Diversity Awareness. ADP. Retrieved March 20, 2023 from https://www.adp.com/spark/articles/2022/01/how-reverse-mentoring-can-help-promote-generational-diversity-awareness.aspx
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- Carrasco, Mario. (March 1, 2022.) Gen Z: Brands Need To Prioritize DEI And Gender Liberation. Forbes. Retrieved March 20, 2023 from https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesagencycouncil/2022/03/01/gen-z-brands-need-to-prioritize-dei-and-gender-liberation/?sh=748e6a8674ab
The Gympass Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.