Motivating a multigenerational workforce

Drake Editorial Team

Companies are struggling with the challenges of managing a more diverse workforce. These challenges often relate to mere variation in perspective and goals as a result of generational differences. These are further complicated because of the age differences between managers and employees. Businesses can’t assume that people of varying ages will understand each other or have the same perspective and goals. In order to be successful, managers need to understand and value the generational differences, perspectives, and goals of others.

Each generation has complained about those in younger age groups. So, the fact that there are differences in the generations is nothing new. What is new today is the magnitude of the differences. It is time to understand and value this diversity so that we can benefit from it. Today’s workplace requires that. To fail to do this can result in failure for everyone. There are predominately three generations co-existing in today’s workplace:

  • Baby Boomers – born between 1946 and 1964
  • Generation X – born between 1965 and 1976
  • Generation Y (also referred to as Millennials or Echo Boomers) – born between 1977 and the present

The differences between the generations create many challenges in the workplace. These challenges can be negative or positive. It is the manager’s job to make sure that these challenges are turned into positives. Here are some of the most common differences between the generations and ways to make sure that each group’s talents are recognized, accepted and maximized.

Different work attitudes: One of the most common complaints Boomers are heard to make about Gen Xers and Gen Yers is that “they don’t have the same work ethic!”  Well, they don’t, that is true. This does not mean that they are not hardworking. What it does mean is that they place a different value and priority on work. While many Boomers have a love/hate relationship with work, Boomers do work to work. Work is more of an end in and of itself. Not so for Gen Xers and Gen Yers. They work to be able to fulfill other, more important (to them), priorities.

Although Gen Xers and Gen Yers are motivated by different things, both age groups need the following:

  • Frequent communication, including being told the “why,” not just the “what” of projects and priorities.
  • To be included, and not just in what affects them most directly.
  • To have fun at work, with a capital “F!”

Additionally, to motivate Gen Xers:

  • Make sure you provide the flexibility needed for them to manage their other priorities, such as dependent children, aging parents, and even educational endeavors. This flexibility can be as simple as providing schedule changes to accommodate these needs. Understand that these are needs, not wants.
  • Provide many opportunities for collaboration and teamwork. This is the generation that “fuels their fire” through teamwork.
  • Provide recognition in ways that connect with what they value the most. Some value handwritten thank you notes for a job well done, while others are motivated by a tangible gift, such as flowers or gift certificates.

To motivate Gen Yers:

  • Provide Gen Yers flexibility in when and where work is done. Gen Yers resist what they see as rigid workday starting times. They do not understand why coming to work fifteen to thirty minutes late is viewed by Boomers as irresponsible behaviour. Also, if you can provide technology that allows them to work at home one or two days a week, all the better!
  • Gen Yers are interested in change and challenge. They will leave a higher paying good job for the opportunity to experience something new. They do not see their careers as needing to be linear, and they are right. Remember, these are the workers who will have at least five different careers, not just jobs over their life span. Their tenure in a particular job is often no more than two to three years.
  • Do not interpret their rebellious nature as negative. Let them vent, do not take it personally, and by all means, avoid “writing them up” for such. This is the generation that will challenge and change much of what we need to change.

Now, how are Boomers motivated?

  • Often by position, power and prestige. Boomers are often traditionalists, and perks of the position matter. They want titles and authority commensurate with responsibility.
  • Allow Boomers to participate in associations and conventions that keep them professionally connected to their peers. Boomers are motivated by working together on professional projects in affiliation with others like them.
  • Compensation that is more long term, such as profit sharing and health care benefits including long term care.

Different Set of Commitments/Loyalties: Boomers have always been seen as loyal to their companies. They feel a sense of belonging and dedication based on their history. This is not so for the Gen Xers and Gen Yers. They are more focused on the present and future. They do not see a problem in going elsewhere when another/better opportunity comes along. This is often seen as being disloyal to their current company, but this isn’t necessarily true. They can be very committed to their work, although not to a particular job. They will do what is required, but not because of a sense of belonging based on tenure or what the company has provided in the past, but because they find meaning in the work. They need to feel that they are making a difference in their work.

So, how can you motivate a workforce whose loyalty lies most within? The answer to this is simple, although the solutions are not always easy to provide. To motivate Gen X and Gen Y, directly connect the job to their interests, and make sure that they find meaning and fun (yes, fun!) in their work. Providing fun in the workplace does not mean goofing off or wasting time. Examples include:

  • Provide regular work group outings, such as sports, picnics and concerts. Be sure that the particular social outings are those that best relate to the culture and interests of the coworkers. Make sure these are optional; not all will be interested in these.
  • Celebrate successes, both work related and individual successes. Throw a late afternoon party at a favorite watering hole when an important project is completed, or throw a party for no reason at all occasionally. Be more creative in these activities than just a monthly birthday celebration. When someone in the group has an important moment, such as school graduation, new baby or new house, celebrate with them. Vary the celebrations, so surprises can accentuate the fun. Again, make these optional, so that those who do not want or need these types of activities are not made to feel they are not a part of the group.
  • How about closing the office unexpectedly an hour or two occasionally, and sending people home to play, to have their own fun?!

Try some of these ideas for managing different generations differently, and you may be able to avoid the revolving door syndrome that is very costly in advertising, recruiting, hiring, training, and then replacing your workforce. Consider this a part of “Talent Management.”

Each generation requires a different set of standards to motivate them at work. In order for a company to be truly successful, all co-existing generations in the workplace need to understand and value each other, even when their perspectives and goals are vastly different. Management plays a key role in how the different generations will interact together.

Instead of looking for a quick solution, spend some time getting to know the talent with whom you work, focusing on their perspectives and goals. Then, everyone will be in a better position to capitalize on the strengths of the differences, minimizing the   challenges.

Patti Fralix, author of the book How to Thrive in Spite of Mess, Stress and Less, inspires positive change in work, life, and family through speaking, consulting, and coaching. She is founder and president of The Fralix Group, Inc., a leadership excellence firm based in Raleigh, NC. Patti has spent the past 20 years providing practical solutions to audiences of all sizes. For more information, contact her at pfralix@fralixgroup.com


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