How to Break Through Generational Barriers for High-Performing Teams



The workforce today is more diverse than ever—the most noticeable being employee age gaps. This new normal, the multi-generational workforce, requires special considerations for project leaders managing and motivating such diverse teams.

What Are The Generations?

Pew Research has noted certain characteristics, values, and sensitivities shared by workers of the five main generations and a newly recognized micro-generation. The generations are designated as follows:

  • Silent, sometimes called Traditionalists (born between 1928 and 1945)
  • Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964)
  • Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980)
  • Xennials (born between 1977 and 1983)
  • Millennials sometimes called Generation Y (born between 1980 and 1996)
  • Generation Z sometimes called Generation 2020 or iGen (born after 1997)

Each generation has been shaped by world events, social dynamics, and technological influences such that researchers have described them with certain motivating stereotypes:

  • The Silent generation as “early faders”
  • Baby Boomers as looking to leave a legacy or early retirement
  • Gen X as “ready to lead but no followers”
  • Millennials as the “techno-savvy game players”
  • Gen Z as the “new kids”

Dan Woodman, an associate sociology professor at the University of Melbourne, describes the Xennials as microgeneration that had “analog childhoods . . . and adapted to a digital revolution in adulthood.” Within these generational descriptions, individuals and their experiences vary. Yet the generalizations provide a framework that managers can use to understand the different needs and contexts of each generation in the workplace, so they can improve their communication with and leadership of workers.

How Managers Can Address Generational Differences in the Workforce

A 2017 research study surveyed 2,200 CFOs about the generational differences of employees. According to the CFOs, the top three differences are in communication skills, adapting to change, and technical skills. The researchers found that Baby Boomers tended to be more reserved, while Gen Xers favor a top-down “control-and-command style” of communication, Millennials prefer to collaborate, and Gen Z prefers in-person interactions. All generations expected technology training; however, they differed in the form of training. Baby Boomers and Gen Xers preferred instructor-led training, while the later generations preferred “collaborative and technology-centric options.” Other researchers have also found that Gen Xers and Millennials do not value face time as much as the Baby Boomers; instead, these “techno-literate” generations prefer digital, real-time communications.

Managing these generational styles and expectations can be difficult for managers who are tasked with achieving maximum productivity and efficiency with such varied differences, but it is important to value and appreciate the unique experiences and expertise of each generation. A good manager should try to place individuals with complementary skill sets on a project so they can strengthen and mentor each other in various ways. A good manager can also encourage knowledge-sharing between the generations by asking younger members to host brown bag lunches on various technology applications, while Baby Boomers could share their knowledge of specialized niches. The goal should be to promote a positive and collaborative team that engages all members, regardless of their age, so they can contribute to a high-performing, productive team.

Stay tuned to our blog for more ideas on how to improve workforce motivation and labor law compliance in your workplace.