How to manage a multi-generational workforce

Sharon Florentine

multi-generational workforce

Today's multi-generational workforce poses unique challenges for CIOs and managers. Baby Boomers, Generation X and millennials all bring unique strengths to work, but as more millennials are being promoted to leadership positions, the potential for workplace disruptions is high.

"The Baby Boomers -- those who aren't retiring, at least -- have the benefit of experience. Generation X workers have patiently "waited their turn," and they feel that they should move into leadership positions by virtue of their working their way up. But companies are desperately in need of the technology skills, the flexibility and adaptability of millennials, and that's pushing many of them into leadership roles, which can be really disruptive," says Dan Schawbel, partner and research director at Future Workplace and New York Times bestselling author of Promote Yourself.

The Multi-Generational Leadership survey from Future Workplace, an executive development firm and Beyond, The Career Network, revealed that a growing number of millennials are managing Gen X and Baby Boomer professionals. However, according to the survey's 5,771 respondents, this shift in leadership could be harmful to a company's work environment.

The survey found that 83 percent of respondents have seen millennials managing Gen X and Baby Boomers in their office. However, 45 percent of Baby Boomers and Gen X respondents feel that millennials' lack of managerial experience could have a negative impact on a company's culture, while over one-third of millennial respondents said that it's difficult managing older generations.

Today's fast-moving, technology enabled workplaces demand the kind of tech-savviness and flexibility that the millennial generation has in spades, says Schawbel, which is why many companies are tapping them for leadership roles. But there's a lack of effective training and mentorship that millennials are used to, and that's causing a major disconnect between generations in the workplace, Schawbel says.

"Millennials have the tech skills and the energy, and they understand the need for instant gratification and how the digital era works -- they grew up with this. They tend to be collaborative, overly communicative leaders, but this can grate on Boomers and even Gen X workers who are used to more autocratic leadership and a strict hierarchy of roles," Schawbel says. Companies must adapt by integrating awareness, mentoring, training and support to help mitigate conflict between different generations who must all work together, he says.

Awareness and understanding

Awareness is the first step toward mitigating and overcoming these conflicts, says Rich Milgram, CEO of Beyond, especially awareness of differences in communication styles, and how technology can both help and hinder each generation.

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