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How to Engage a Multigenerational Workforce

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(The following article is excerpted from our research report, “The New Meaning of Talent: Adapting to the Work and the Workforce of Tomorrow.” Download your copy today.)

Today’s talent landscape encompasses people from multiple generations who bring distinct perspectives into the world of work. So a leading challenge for employers has become how to engage a multigenerational workforce.

What is a Multigenerational Workforce?

The labeling of generations is approximate, with some variation of the actual years each was born. Nevertheless, Baby Boomers (born roughly 1945-1964), Gen Xers (1965-1979), Millennials (1980-1995), and Gen Zs (born after 1995) all work together, and each group has different expectations of their employers and their careers. For companies recruiting and managing workers across generations, those differences may be seen as obstacles to engagement.

Multigenerational Workforce Statistics

Research reveals the issues companies face with workers of different backgrounds as 53 percent of HR decision-makers we surveyed say that managing a multigenerational workforce brings with it several challenges. Leading issues include differences in communication styles (38 percent), managing expectations of in-office work against flexible and remote working (36 percent), and balancing needs for new ideas against the need to maintain a stable status quo (35 percent). Other challenging areas include diverse, preferred management styles (28 percent), managing expectations for speedy promotions (26 percent), negative generational stereotypes (19 percent), and company culture clashes (18 percent).

To address the demands of managing across age groups and best engage today’s multigenerational workforce, employers can look beyond the differences in generational perspectives to arrive at areas of shared need.

Get Flexible About Work Requirements

The first shared trait across generations in the workforce is a desire for flexibility. For example, RAND cites that college-graduates aged 50 and older are more than twice as likely to set their own work hours as less-educated talent who are newer to the workforce. Likewise, a Forbes article reports that 74 percent of Millennials consider flexible schedules an important consideration when choosing an employer.

Many factors contribute to the changing focus on flexibility. Baby Boomers may want to set their own hours or work remotely as they approach retirement and seek to spend more time with family. GenXers may find themselves returning to the workforce after taking time off to focus on raising a family. Similarly, Gen Z and Millennial workers are experiencing career paths that replace the concept of work-life balance with work-life integration, where work can be conducted remotely at any time of day and enable interactions with others at any location around the world.

To increase flexibility in work options, employers can increase the availability of contract or freelance options. Likewise, remote working is now a viable option for a large portion of roles, with technology enabling knowledge workers to conduct business anytime and anyplace. Also, part-time options can provide a strong opportunity to engage workers, such as Baby Boomers, who want to keep working while adopting a semi-retirement lifestyle.

Companies are already seeing the benefits of how improved flexibility boosts engagement across generations. For example, international energy and services company Centrica offers 12-week, paid “returnships,” giving seniors who have been out of the workforce for two or more years the opportunity to work on professional assignments while receiving coaching and mentoring. In another example, global ad agency GTB offers a 10-week paid internship for women who have been out of work for multiple years, a flexible approach that provides an on-ramp for skilled workers to restart their careers.

Use Technology to Enable the Employee Experience

A second common priority across generations is the expectation of technology as a conduit of communication and engagement. Ninety percent of Allegis Group surveyed HR leaders say adopting technology-enabled best practices such as flexible scheduling, remote working, and virtual meetings will position them for long-term success. Recognizing the need for technology enablement across generations, companies are going out of their way to bring all generations into the digital environment. For example, AT&T established a group called oxyGEN that sponsors professionals newer to the workforce to educate seniors about mobile technology, according to a Forbes article.

Employees of all generations value resources that make tasks easy, fast, and transparent. Digitizing administrative tasks, from expense reporting to submitting payroll and performance management forms, frees employees from formerly cumbersome, manual processes. A central location for information accessible from desktop or mobile devices reduces the need for employees to make time-consuming searches and phone calls that sap productivity. In a desired situation, an employee could utilize a single system to seek a subject matter expert related to a project, a technical help desk resource to solve an IT issue, or an administrator to assist with a benefits or payroll question. At the same time, online collaboration is proving valuable for bringing together people and resources, quickly and effectively, overcoming the limitations of location or organizational boundaries.

Give Employees Control Over Their Careers

The third priority shared across workers of all ages is a desire for career control. Every employee wants to succeed, but organizations may find that the definitions of success differ. For example, Gen Z workers may desire projects outside their comfort zones to expand new skills, while Baby Boomers may seek opportunities to teach others and share their knowledge built on years of experience. Note that these examples should not confine employers into thinking in terms of generational stereotypes. The more senior worker, for example, may be interested in learning from those who are newer to the workforce or be willing to take on projects to learn new skills.

For all workers, employers can embrace several practices to boost career opportunities. Provide visibility and transparency in communicating open positions. Offer mentorships and stretch assignments to all employees. Foster a sense of learning and growth, and, most importantly, encourage deep, inclusive relationships among employees, their peers, managers, and leadership to foster mutual career paths that work best for each individual. Processes and technologies can improve visibility and communication, but there is no substitute for a culture that pushes leaders to better know the individual employees who work for them.

Download our Report

The nature of work is changing, and employers are taking notice. Demographic shifts are reshaping the makeup of companies, presenting challenges with engaging a multigenerational workforce. Demands for emerging skills have created talent shortages. New technologies and non-traditional work models are gaining prominence. As a result, today’s companies must evolve their talent and business strategies. Find out how successful employers are adapting so you can secure the workforce you need to succeed. Download your copy of The New Meaning of Talent: Adapting to the Work and the Workforce of Tomorrow” today.

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