Do employees of different generations work better under different management styles? What role do generational differences play in staff satisfaction and productivity? These are key questions to consider for multi-generational management.

Good management is built around understanding each individual in the organization: their priorities and expectations, how they work best, how they communicate. As you know, each person is different, but recognizing generational differences can help you better understand and manage them.

A Quick Primer on Generations

While sources vary slightly, these are the generally accepted birth years of generations you might find in the workplace.

  • Baby Boomers: 1946-1964
  • Generation X: 1965-1980
  • Millennials (Generation Y): 1981-1996
  • Generation Z (post-millennials): 1997-current

That doesn’t mean that someone born in 1981 will be the same as someone born 15 years later, even though they’d both be considered millennials. The values and communication styles of each generation are general tendencies and guidelines, not hard and fast rules.

In fact, one of the biggest management mistakes you can make is to pigeonhole an employee before you get to know them. But these broad generational differences can help get you started.

Know Where They’re Coming From

Gen Z and, to a lesser extent, millennials are facing unprecedented challenges. Many of them are saddled with student debt, in some cases more than their annual salaries. They’re also facing a workplace with limited jobs—a fact even before the pandemic. Those who entered the workforce when the 2008 recession hit are now facing a second major downturn.

If they feel insecurity about their careers and have a driving need to make money, that’s understandable. Add in a workforce where entrepreneurs seemingly achieve six-figure and seven-figure salaries almost overnight, and younger workers may have unrealistic expectations for their advancement in typical work environments and less patience than their predecessors.

Add the pandemic to the mix, and many may be pessimistic about their ability to have a better life than their parents.

As a manager, you may need to educate Gen Z and millennials about the realities of their career paths. You’ll also need to understand that they have reasons for not always bringing a bubbly, positive attitude to work. That doesn’t mean they aren’t enthusiastic and motivated, but they are carrying some burdens that older generations didn’t.

Leadership Styles

Great managers adapt their leadership styles to suit the people they’re leading. That doesn’t mean not being yourself. But if you want your staff to follow your lead, it’s your responsibility to ensure they understand where you’re leading them and why.

Millennials and Gen Z, in particular, tend to want more open and honest communication. All workers deserve that, but younger generations are more likely to expect it.

While not specific to any generation, providing regular, specific, constructive feedback aimed at helping employees reach goals and, when needed, change behavior is always a good leadership technique. That isn’t a license to micro-manage, but it does mean managers should be available to help employees learn, grow and solve problems.

Knowledge Transfer

Look at your organization overall. Do you have workers with decades of valuable knowledge to pass on? Do you have employees nearing retirement age who have important skills and knowledge, especially institutional knowledge about your organization?

The best practice is to set up a strategy to capture and transfer those decades of knowledge. Consider holding lectures and discussions led by senior personnel, inter- and intra-department meetings and events, lunch-and-learn sessions or mentoring programs. Having the opportunity to pass along hard-won knowledge and skills greatly benefits older workers; acquiring that information has equal benefits for younger workers.

Additionally, millennials and Gen Z tend to be hungry for avenues to grow, learn and advance in their organizations and careers. Advancement doesn’t always have to mean vertical moves. A lateral move with new responsibilities or a short-term opportunity to lead a team or a project are excellent growth and retention strategies.

Best Practices for Multi-Generational Management

If you haven’t audited or tweaked your benefits and social media policies in a while, this is the time to do it.

First, understand that millennials and Gen Z tend to have different expectations about work-life balance. Whether that means revisiting your work hours and PTO or recognizing and providing opportunities to relieve stress, new policies can be powerful tools to attraction and retain great employees.

Second, millennial and Gen Z workers are often much heavier users of social media. What may be acceptable to a Gen Z employee may not seem that way to, say, a Baby Boomer. If your organization doesn’t have clear, fair policies about employees’ social media use, you need some ASAP.

Finally, remember that good managers always adapt their leadership style to the unique needs of the employees. This is less about a generational “type” and more about the competency, motivation, career goals, and initiative of each employee.

Managing a multi-generational workforce effectively has many benefits for both your organization and your employees. If the Lindenberger Group can help you make the most of that opportunity, please contact us online or at 609-730-1049.