Managing Multi-Generational Teams: The challenges & The Opportunities

Posted: Mar 2, 2018
Simon Brownbill

Research suggests that workplaces are changing and increasingly feeling the impact of managing multi-generational teams – a team made up of colleagues from a variety of different generations or age groups. The various generations each have differences which, when they work together, can create challenges and opportunities.

Before we delve further into this, it’s worth familiarising ourselves with the common generational classifications:

  • Baby boomers, or ‘boomers’ were born between 1946 and 1964.
  • Generation X were born between 1965 and 1980.
  • Generation Y, also known as ‘millennials’ were born between 1981 and 2000.
  • Generation Z were born between 1995 and 2015.

Increasingly, ‘boomers’ are being retained and members of Generation Z are coming into the workforce at 16 or 18 via apprenticeships or school leaver programmes. Furthermore, it is predicted that the workforce will age substantially over time, as many of today’s ten-year-olds are predicted to live until at least 100, if not longer.

The result of these changes is that workplaces are seeing a clear shift from employing two generations to three or even four. Clearly there are differences between individuals in their outlook and approach to work, but across generations there are also common employment benefits and challenges. These can be best observed by looking at the two generations furthest apart. 

First of all, if we look at Generation Z, we see that the employer benefits from cost-effective recruitment and salaries. They are generally easier to train, giving the business a supply of people with the specific skills and qualities that it requires. They are also tech-savvy.

However, there are some drawbacks to employing this generation. They often place greater value on life outside of work and are consequently less willing to put in the hours, yet they still have high salary expectations. There can also be practical issues, as emotional stability is under-developed and perhaps they do not drive or cannot necessarily afford the correct working attire.

Simon Brownbill

Simon Brownbill - Head of Practice Development 

Next, if we look at the boomer category, we also see some clear benefits to the employer. 

The benefits to employers of this older generation include the fact that they often have strong client relationships and networks. This experience also means they can deal with a range of personal and commercial situations and have stronger leadership and communications skills.

However, they can be resistant to change and slower to adopt new technology. Inevitably they also tend to have more health issues than younger employees. But perhaps the biggest drawback to employing older colleagues is that often they are hardest to replace, and you only miss them when they are gone.

So, what can employers do to alleviate and indeed harness these differences?

We are seeing a growing increase in the number of firms looking at how to use multi-generational teams to their advantage. Typically, this is enabled by ideas such as:

  • The use of common technology platforms accessible via different devices: This means that one generation more comfortable with hand-held devices can interact and work effectively, and so can those who are more comfortable working on desktops.
  • Multi-use workspace can encourage team work across the generations and give employees the ability to work in a way that is most effective for them all whilst enjoying collaboration with colleagues.
  • Mentoring and coaching: There is a good natural fit for the older generations to mentor and coach the younger ones, offsetting some of the issues previously outlined.
  • Attracting and retaining older colleagues as well as younger ones: There can be a tendency to focus on attracting and retaining younger colleagues. Indeed, with retirement ages set to dramatically increase, and workforces ageing, attracting and retaining older colleagues is likely to become much more of an issue. Older colleagues can be retained via pre-retirement sabbaticals, changing to part time contracts or consultancy agreements.

Finally, for those leading multi-generational teams, a useful analogy to think about is your own family: You may feel at times like you are holding it all together looking after both your kids and your parents who are equally demanding but in their own different ways – it’s the same in business. Like a family though, at the end of the day, you are all in it together and want the very best for each other.

If you would like to hear more on managing multi-generational teams, feel free to contact Simon Brownbill by clicking here or call 0161 477 2474