Dealing with a multi-generational workforce

Generational differences have a big influence on the workplace and organisations need to understand these differences and adjust their management of different and in particular in relation to the younger generations. Lizanne de Jong discusses the dynamics of a multigenerational workforce.

For the first time in history, organisations are experiencing the dynamics of having four distinct generations operating in the workplace at the same time. These are the Silent Generation or Traditionalists (born 1925 to1945), Baby Boomers (born 1946 to 1964), Generation X (born 1965 to 1980) and Generation Y or Millennials, as they are popularly known (born 1981 to 1995). In addition, and to further complicate matters the eldest of Generation Z, also known as the iGen generation (born 1996+) is turning 19 in 2015 and they are about to join the ranks of your workforce as well.

Generational theory indicates that individuals in a particular age group tend to share the same attitudes and behaviours as they grew up in a particular period in history and therefore have a set of shared experiences.

Today’s organisations are generally flatter and leaner than ever before, and employees of all generations – once segregated by age and position, are now working more closely together. This ‘collision’ of generations in today’s working world – unless fully understood and properly managed - can create conflict and turbulence in the workplace.
Generational differences bring another aspect to the diversity equation for organisations which already have to cope with the additional pressures of a highly complex, fast-changing business environment. Some of these implications will be disruptive and even painful for organisations that are accustomed to traditional patterns of authority and channels of communication.

However, if these generational differences are understood and managed correctly they have the potential to create opportunities for synergy and collaboration that will undoubtedly give any company a competitive edge.

In a recent survey about multi-generational workforces, 97% of respondents admitted that there are significant generational differences in their workplace and that these differences have the potential to become an issue in the future. But interestingly, only 26% of the respondents had access to training or resources to help them leverage generational diversity.

There must be a multi-focus on generations. It is senseless to only focus on understanding the Millennials and ignore the other generations. In a diverse working world, we need to understand the needs, way of working and demands of all the generations. South African Millennials are also informed and socialised from a different historical milieu than their international counterparts.

In a recent study conducted by Universum, INSEAD’s Emerging Market Institute and the HEAD foundation, 16 637 people between 18 and 30 years old were surveyed in 43 countries. The study indicated that Millennials are interested in becoming leaders, but for different reasons. African Millennials seemed to care most about gaining opportunities to coach and mentor others which is a response that didn’t resonate with other areas in the world, where high income potential is more important. What Millennials wanted to see in a leader also produced varied results. 40% of the Africa respondents wanted managers who empower their employees. Millennials from European and Middle Eastern countries preferred quality. Work-life balance seems to be important in most regions.

Research can be valuable and adds to the knowledge of understanding the differences in the younger generations, but the reality is that we have to manage a multi-generational workforce on a very practical level. Managers constantly express the frustration in dealing with the younger generation, and often the frustration is based on biased and ill-informed stereotypes. The Managing Today’s Multigenerational Workforce course offered by Alusani Skills & Training Network® focuses on understanding all the different generations in the workforce and in addition to the generational focus, also looks at the additional lenses of personality and psychodynamics.

The 2-day ‘Managing Today’s Multigenerational Workforce’ course is hosted by Alusani Skills & Training Network® . For more information call 011 447 7470 or email

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