How to Manage Generational Differences in the Workplace

Andrew Moran
Andrew Moran

Business and Finance Expert

A Millennial, Generation Xer and Baby Boomer talking and laughing in an office
Dmytro Zinkevych /

Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon made headlines last month when he revealed during the winter meetings that he was reading Managing Millennials for Dummies. Maddon, who will be turning 65 when pitchers and catchers report for spring training, knows a thing or two about generational differences, working 40 years as an MLB manager, scout and coach. One of the game’s best managers says he wants to better serve his roster, which is made up of Generation X and millennial players.

As offices handle the transition from Baby Boomer to millennial, there will be plenty of conflicts due to contrasting values going head to head. One employee wants to utilise a certain method, while the other has a different approach to tackle the problem at hand. You need to impose a resolution to eliminate these conflicts right away.

Rather than allowing the age gap to metastasise into an all-out brawl, your business can employ a series of measures to properly manage generational differences in the workplace.

Simply put: Joe Maddon can serve as an example for offices everywhere.

1. Toss Out the Stereotypes

Every generation has several stereotypes. When you think about Baby Boomers and Millennials, what descriptors spring to mind? For the flower children, it’s gold watches, retirement and analogue. For Generation Y, it’s social media, entitlement and digital. While there might be an immense gap between the two generations, everyone likes to beat up on millennials and boomers and pervade plenty of myths. But they can co-exist – Generation Xers will be the referee!

In an office, it is imperative to toss out the stereotypes; otherwise, you’ll only brew conflict and division, impacting productivity levels. You will be better off to evaluate each employee as an individual, not as a part of a generation.

Millie the Millennial may not be as entitled, selfish and lazy as you think. She may just want to be commended for her work, earn a paycheque and have a work-life balance. Bob the Boomer, meanwhile, may not be terrible with technology as you think – nobody has taken the time to show him the ropes about coding, social media or ordering a pizza online.

2. Enhance Strengths and Minimise Weaknesses

Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses. It is your job as a manager to play to their strengths and hide their weaknesses. This is how you manage a tight-run ship and ensure that everyone brings something to the table.

For instance, the older workers may be a bit more personable and can handle the sales side of the business. The younger workers, on the other hand, might be savvier with digital tools and search engine optimisation. In this situation, a Boomer worker can outline what a client wants, and a millennial professional can determine the best social media campaign to employ.

While you don’t want to segregate the company into various age categories, it is a good beginning, as long as you foster an environment of mentorship (see below), cooperation and collaboration.

3. Encourage Mentorships

Typically, every business wants to see the older employees take their younger counterparts under their wing. This ensures that the torch is being passed, and you can be confident that the millennial employees have learned from the best.

That said, what about reverse mentorships? This is when younger employees take their older counterparts under their wing. This could consist of everything from instructing how to use specific online programs to teaching Boomers about big data.

Both sides have something to offer – mentorship doesn’t need to be a one-way street.

4. Boost Camaraderie

One generation grew up with the Beatles, hot rods and rotary phones. The other generation was raised by Britney Spears, reality television and mobile devices. But just because there are massive generational interests and traits, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they cannot have a bond or some sort of camaraderie – does it need to be a general brawl every day in the office?

So, how exactly can you encourage better relationships? Here are a few ideas:

  • Organise events – a night at the ballpark, a trip to the bowling alley or a visit to Las Vegas.
  • Hold themed days – Hawaiian shirt days play your favourite music day or potluck day.
  • Encourage partnerships – One hour a week, connect two random employees and have them share their duties, experience and skills.

Not everyone needs to be a best friend, but professional relationships foster innovation.

5. Facilitate Communication

When a Baby Boomer hears the word ‘communication’, they think of the telephone. When a millennial hears the same word, they think of texts or tweets. When a business mentions this term, all sorts of methods should be, and are, on the table. Or, put another way, refrain from instituting a blanket communication policy.

It’s always a good idea to have a diverse array of communication methods, such as memos, phone calls, emails, texts or instant messages and in-person conversations.

You should open the floodgates of communication to tailor to the needs of everyone. You can learn a few things about your team once they open up more and convey what they want out of the company, what they can offer to their superiors, and what they want to accomplish as they advance their careers.

6. Ditch One-Size-Fits-All Managing

Sure, if you can count your entire workforce numbers on one hand, then you can maintain the same managing style and office policies that everyone can abide by. However, if your business employs 20, 50 or 250 workers, then you need to abandon the one-size-fits-all management approach. But how?

Here are a few measures to take advantage of:

  • install an open-door policy to understand the personality and needs of each employee
  • hold weekly meetings and encourage everyone to step up and provide their opinions
  • be an example of what you want your employees to do; this allows them to use their judgement
  • remain transparent with your workforce; they will then reward you with loyalty and hard work
  • make the workday more enjoyable with casual conversations, lunch outings or flexibility.

Millennials might prefer flexibility, while Boomers may enjoy casual chatter more. A senior employee wants autonomy, while a Generation Xer may demand micromanaging. The generations may switch their demands. Whatever the case, everyone is different, so it is up to you to strike a fine balance.

7. Review Your Management Style

As you begin to consider generational diversity in your business, you first need to review your management style. Has it always been hands-on? Have you taken a lackadaisical approach to managing? Did you always incorporate a one-size-fits-all management style into your daily affairs?

By reviewing how you manage your staff, you can adapt to the needs of your workforce. Moreover, you can also discover new strategies for self-improvement, productivity and leadership. This will make or break your company, particularly as you learn how to work with millennials – and their successors.

You always want your employees to conduct reviews of their work. This is your chance to do the same.

Indeed, those born following the Second World War tend to blame the world’s problems on participation trophies, safe spaces and social media – the hallmarks of millennials. Those born in the age of the internet tend to pass the buck to their generational predecessors for everything that ails the planet, ranging from bankrupt nations to corporate greed to even the poor habits of millennials.

The generational resentment can be a horrendous trend, but it should never seep into the workforce. Instead, it is better to ensure both sides are working towards a common goal, and that is whatever project is in front of them. Remember: mentorships and understanding are how we do this.

How do you manage generational differences in the workplace? Join the conversation down below and let us know.