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These Strategies Will Help You Manage And Lead Multigenerational Teams To Success

One of the most pressing challenges facing managers today is effectively leading multi-generational teams.

Written By Chelsea C. Williams, Founder & CEO, Reimagine Talent Co.

One of the most pressing challenges facing managers today is effectively leading multigenerational teams. With five generational cohorts in today’s workplace–traditionalists, baby boomers, Gen Xers, millennials, and Gen Zers–each brings unique experiences, values, and approaches to work.

Fostering harmony and collaboration among these diverse cohorts is essential for business and team success.

As a founder and CEO, my team and I work with leaders and managers who struggle with multigenerational team dynamics. As retirement patterns shift, individuals are working longer than ever before. Baby boomers and traditionalists are still working because of the COVID-19 pandemic and financial need; this is especially true for communities of color. Meanwhile, Gen Z is hungry for opportunities to advance quickly and move into leadership roles. All generations can become easily frustrated by a lack of understanding of their younger or older co-workers.

All organizations can benefit from learning to lead across generations to build, engage, and retain a multigenerational workforce.

Understanding Each Generation

First, let’s take a moment to clarify what generational analysis means and how it is used to help shape insights into the different cohorts in today’s workforce and workplace.

Now let’s look at the Pew Research Center’s findings about each generation and a few characteristics that affect their work styles and expectations from managers:

Generation Z, born 1997-2012:

  • Accustomed to change and expects it in the workplace.
  • Values in-person interactions.
  • Seeks feedback on a frequent, ongoing basis.

Millennials, born 1981-1996:

  • Wants to be coached and mentored.
  • Prefers collaborative and technology-centric training.
  • Must be in alignment with company values.

Generation X, born 1965-1980:

  • Views change as a vehicle for opportunity.
  • Embraces a hands-off management policy.
  • Is entrepreneurial and results-oriented.

Baby Boomers, born 1945-1964:

  • More reserved in communication style.
  • Values traditional instructor-led courses or self-learning tools.
  • Appreciates managers being ethical, fair, and consistent.

Traditionalists, born before 1945:

  • Believes in hierarchical management styles.
  • Has a strong work ethic and loyalty to an employer.
  • Slow to adapt to new technology.

Values Vary Across Generations

First, let’s recognize that employees’ values vary across generations. What constitutes success, fulfillment, and recognition in the workplace differs significantly from generation to generation. Therefore, adopting a one-size-fits-all approach to management is not effective. Instead, managers must tailor their strategies to accommodate each generation’s diverse needs and expectations.

At Reimagine Talent, we are seeing our clients diversify their benefit options, like retirement, 401(K) savings, and student loan repayment, to appeal to younger and more seasoned employees.

We have heard from many students and early career professionals who decide where to work based on an organization’s social image, commitment to “do good,” and team diversity. Many Gen Zers from underrepresented communities have said they do not want to be a company’s “one and only” minority representative.

Furthermore, external realities, such as social, political, and environmental factors, impact each generation differently. While older generations may have experienced similar challenges in wars and economics today, younger generations, like Gen Z, confront these issues with fresh and inexperienced perspectives. Understanding how these external factors shape each generation’s worldview is crucial for effective leadership.

Different Communication Preferences

For managers from older generations, integrating Gen Z and Gen Alpha members (those born entirely in the 21st century) into their teams requires an understanding of the evolving nature of work. Significant differences exist in how these younger generations access and consume information compared to their predecessors. Platforms like YouTube and TikTok are central to shaping their perceptions and behaviors. According to SocialPilot, it’s estimated that 96% of Gen Z and 87% of millennials in the U.S. have a YouTube account.

Managers must adopt a dual role of overseeing and guiding younger team members, providing mentorship and coaching while sharing best practices to support their professional development. By embracing the shifting trends and preferences of younger generations, managers can create an environment conducive to collaboration and growth.

What resonates with one generation may not satisfy another. Use various methods, from in-person and written interactions with older generations to chat platforms and short video announcements with younger workers.

Consider expanding the communication mediums on your team and, most importantly, ask each team member what communication works best for them. In cases where your team may be hybrid or fully remote, this focus on clarifying communications becomes vital in building a strong team culture.

Challenges Facing Older Vs. Younger Generations

Another important factor to consider with a multigenerational team is the personal challenges that may affect their work, finances, and mental health. Be cognizant of life stages and challenges and offer resources and guidance to help your team through them.

Personal finances, economic climate/job opportunities, mental health, and climate change worries impact younger generations. There’s a growing mental health crisis for everyone, but especially younger generations. The Thriving Center of Psychology reported that 1 in 4 Gen Zers and millennials said their mental health declined in 2023, and more than half reported they are going or have gone to therapy. Managers should be mindful of mental health needs and willing to provide reasonable accommodations for some team members.

On the other end of the spectrum, older generations are impacted by concerns about reaching or achieving retirement, receiving fair compensation as they age, having work flexibility to slow down or reduce hours, and stress about using advanced and new technologies. In a recent retirement survey by Schroeders, 61% of non-retired Gen Xers were not confident in their ability to achieve a dream retirement, and 84% of Gen X respondents were concerned or terrified about not receiving regular paychecks. Many older workers plan to work for as long as they can simply because they must. Managers can help alleviate some of this stress by providing financial resources and having open, honest conversations about job security.

Build a Culture of Inclusion

One generational shift that has caused tension in the workplace is the heightened conversations and actions toward diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Fostering a diversity, equity, and inclusion culture is critical for all generations to feel supported and valued at work. When done well, diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives serve as the bridge in bringing people of differences together toward a common goal. As one example, Employer Resource Groups (ERGs) are a great way for organizations to help create welcoming environments and advance business priorities. For one of our clients at Reimagine Talent, ERGs help bring generations together through powerful educational programming offered to all employees. During Disabilities Awareness Month, three ERGs worked together to shed light on accessibility at work and provided practical resources to help employees advocate for people with disabilities.

Advice for Millennial Managers

As a millennial founder & CEO, I am in the middle of the generational spectrum. I have been challenged with navigating the dynamics between younger and older team members. I’ve learned how important it is to be mindful of differing experiences and approaches to work. Through this journey, I have learned much and seen my leadership skills evolve by simply asking questions, being flexible, and maintaining transparency.

While drawing on established best practices like respect, promptness, and thoughtfulness, millennial managers should remain open-minded to evolving trends with Gen Z team members, such as using A.I. technologies and the gig economy. Flexibility, adaptability, and a willingness to embrace change are essential for millennial managers leading multigenerational teams.

Each generation brings value to your organization. The significance of multigenerational diversity extends beyond your internal teams. As employees and consumers, all generations play dual roles in shaping business success. A multigenerational workforce provides a competitive advantage, offering a deeper understanding of diverse consumer segments. By harnessing insights from different generations, you can create strategies that resonate with today’s growing customer segments.

Navigating multigenerational teams requires self-awareness and the desire to build the bridge within your team! Managers can cultivate team harmony by recognizing and leveraging each generation’s unique strengths and preferences to drive productivity, innovation, and organizational success in 2024 and beyond.

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Chelsea C. Williams, an entrepreneur, workplace educator, and mentor, is the founder & CEO of Reimagine Talent Co., a national talent development firm based in Raleigh, NC. Her national team empowers employers, educational institutions, and nonprofits with high-impact HR & career development solutions that support employee engagement, development, and retention.

Chelsea is a trusted contributor to CNBC, Fast Company, Investment News, Insider, and Forbes, focusing on leading multigenerational teams and developing Generation Z. She’s a 2021 Forbes Next 1000 Award recipient, 2022 Tory Burch Entrepreneurial Fellow, and 2023 Entrepreneurial Impact Awardee by J.P. Morgan Chase Commercial Bank and Women Presidents Organization (WPO). She is passionate about redefining workplaces through innovation and inclusivity.

Chelsea is based in Raleigh, North Carolina.