The workplace is growing larger and more diverse everyday. Research suggests that we’ll soon have a multigenerational workforce so diverse, that there will be five different generations crammed into the same office space—each with their own preferences, skills and set of priorities.

Managing the spread of generational characteristics among your employees might not always be the easiest task—but it’s critical to your business’ growth. As disengagement continues to cost the United States nearly $500 billion each year, it’s up to leaders to address the concerns of the multigenerational workforce head on, and start thinking about the steps they need to take for success.

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This begs the question: How do you connect with employees of different age groups? How do you respond to generational differences in the workplace, and how can you ensure engagement across such diverse personalities?

Approaching Generational Differences in the Workplace

Before we jump head-first into steps for engaging various generations across your workforce, it’s important to remember that employees are people, not generational identities. If you focus entirely on statistics that suggest the “silent generation” (1928-1945) are always executives, or that Millennials (1981-1997) are obsessed with technology, you’ll be building a culture based on stereotypes—which we know doesn’t necessarily cultivate the most positive work environment.

The only sustainable way to maintain and manage a multigenerational workforce is to build your strategy on a solid foundation of strong communication. Integrating tools and processes that make communication across the workplace simpler and more available to everyone is critical to strong engagement levels.

Managers and leaders need to make themselves available to employees, as establishing relationships not only helps with retention, but it also increases productivity and engagement in a big way. Above all else, communication is the heart of a multigenerational workforce.

Step 1: Start With Company Culture

Company culture is a concept growing more popular by the day, and not just among your younger generations anymore—it’s becoming important to everyone. According to a Columbia University study, the probability of job turnover at a company with high company culture is only 13.9%, compared to 48.4% at an organization with poor company culture. Building a culture that corresponds with the generational differences in the workplace can be tough, but it’s mostly just about bringing people together.

While hosting company events might not sound as appealing as a ping-pong table or fancy espresso machine, it’s a powerful way to bring your community together in a face-to-face environment. Millennials and Baby-Boomers alike can both benefit from shared lunches or happy hours, so try to implement group activities like this wherever possible. If you’re concerned about differing preferences in your business, you can always look for a way to make company culture more flexible.

Companies with happy employees outperform their competition by 20% on average and earn 1.2-1.7% more than their peers. Find a way that your company can appeal to multiple generations, and you’ll be setting your workforce up for success.

Step 2: Forget Bias & Stereotypes

While it’s important to remember that different generations do have different preferences, that doesn’t mean that you should try to place everyone into their own stereotypical silo. Every Millennial isn’t necessarily glued to their phone or dependent on social media, just like all Baby-Boomers aren’t entirely focused on a steady wage or climbing the corporate ladder. While generational stereotypes seem to abound wherever you look, it’s important not to allow your leadership team to fall in line—nothing good comes from narrowing your view of an entire group.

Though there’s nothing wrong with opening your mind to the generational characteristics that present themselves in your office with the intention to adjust and respond accordingly, but you should also be equally as focused on bridging the gaps between your diverse communities. Rather than assuming your workers will want different things or shown preferential treatment, give them a chance to share their ambitions and concerns with you and with each other so you can strive to create benefit packages and solutions that suit everyone.

Step 3: Bridge the Gap in Motivation

As mentioned, each group in your workforce is likely to have unique preferences about how they like to interact or how they’d appreciate being rewarded for their work. This can make it a little more difficult for leaders to find ways of engaging every group on a regular basis. One way to make sure that you’re always giving enough recognition to your employees, is to look for common preferences shared by all employees in your community.

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Though it’s true that some of your employees may have more of a focus on work/life balance or flexible working, there are some requirements for a happy team member that stay the same regardless of which generation you fall into. While educating yourself on the specific needs of each generation will help you to develop a more powerful company culture, understanding the common spaces between each group could help to simplify your reward and recognition process.

Remember, while a one-size-fits-all approach to benefits is rarely effective, these desires remain universal to any employee:

  • Respect: All staff members want to feel heard, and appreciated
  • Opportunities: Everyone wants opportunity for learning and growth
  • Progression: Each of your workers will want to know that there’s work development available
  • Recognition: Everyone wants to be recognized for their work

Step 4: Open the Lines of Communication

We mentioned that communication is crucial to managing the generational differences in the workplace. Unfortunately, the unbalances between communication styles in older and younger employees can make it hard for leaders to find a common channel for connections. While Millennials send tweets and instant messages to communicate, Baby-Boomers and Gen X-ers prefer to stick to emails and phone calls. Throw in the abbreviate language of younger staff, and you’ve got a recipe for serious communication breakdowns.

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To successfully engage the modern workforce, leaders need to understand the generational characteristics that exist among their employees and think about how they can make way for broader communication between everyone. For instance, bringing everyone together on the same employee advocacy or communications platform can create collaboration and cohesion among your workforce, uniting them as they strive to achieve one, shared goal.

If everyone knows where they need to go to communicate, there’s no need to switch between instant messaging, email or phone calls for different employees. Don’t forget to leverage the strengths of one generation to help educate and enable another. If your younger employees need help developing business acumen, have a Baby-Boomer mentor them. If your Boomers are struggling with new technologies, leverage your Millennials or Gen Z-ers to help explain the interface and skill them up.

Step 5: Focus on Flexibility

As the current workforce continues to evolve to meet changing workforce trends and technology, it’s important for company leaders to recognize the shift in cultural expectations that has emerged. For many younger generations, it’s important for workplaces to offer opportunities for flexible working and telecommuting options—they’ll be more drawn to a professional community that lets them contribute from outside of the office.

On the other hand, some of your more seasoned employees might prefer a workplace that allows for a traditional routine, with hours spent in front of their desk during the day and work that doesn’t follow them home. The key is to allow for flexibility between both options. Ideally, companies should create workforces that allow for both remote working when necessary, and office-based projects at the same time.

Most importantly, communication is the key to success—if checking email on off-hours is something you expect, tell employees that clearly and up-front. If it’s something that you leave up to the employees’ discretion, make sure employees are aware of that as well so they don’t become frustrated with fellow employees who might not be as responsive on off-hours.

By creating a more flexible office environment, you’ll appeal to the 68% of Millennials searching for the opportunity to work remotely as part of their jobs, while also allowing other employees to visit the office and schedule their activities in a way that works for them. Keep in mind, Millennials aren’t the only ones who want the option to work remote—34% of Gen X and Boomers would like to work from home, and 74% claim they’d like more work flexibility.

Celebrate Diversity in Your Multigenerational Workforce

While it’s important to look at your workforce as a diverse community of people with unique characteristics, rather than a group of generational characteristics, the truth is that you’re bound to notice some differences between professionals. However, that doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing—in fact, according to Forbes, 85% of large global companies believe that diversity is crucial to innovation in the workforce.

By implementing a mix of generations into your workplace, you gain insights from countless different experiences and personalities working together. What’s more, the skills of your staff can begin to grow. After all, co-workers can not only learn from each other in formal training programs, but also get together for powerful cross-generational mentoring relationships. Both reciprocal and reverse mentoring programs that pair seasoned executives and younger professionals are becoming more popular across many offices, as different generations have diverse skills to teach each other.

As a leader in a multigenerational workforce, the key to success comes from embracing and understanding diversity, and using the knowledge you gain to enhance engagement. By building on a platform of communication, you can create a workplace that’s truly inclusive for professionals of any background and any generation.