Nowadays, many more people are staying in roles past the conventional retirement age, meaning that five generations are currently co-existing in the workplace. These are…

  • The Silent Generation (1928-1945)
  • Baby Boomers (1946-1964)
  • Generation X (1965-1980)
  • Millennials (1981-1996)
  • Generation Z (1997-2012)

This diversity presents businesses with a unique opportunity to reap the rewards of a multigenerational workforce – which include increased productivity and creativity. But it’s not enough to just attract a variety of age-diverse talent. To get the best out of their teams, leaders also need to manage them well.

With that said, we’ve pulled together five tips for managing multigenerational teams.

1. Combat negative stereotypes

Combat negative stereotypes

This first tip may sound obvious, but it’s an important one. Ageism is still prevalent in the UK, with research revealing that over a third of people hold ageist beliefs. This has led experts to dub it ‘the last form of socially acceptable prejudice’.

In the workplace, ageist beliefs often take the form of negative stereotypes about different generations. For example, younger workers may assume their older colleagues are tech-averse or ‘stuck in their ways’. At the same time, earlier generations might not take members of Gen Z seriously, perceiving them as irresponsible and less competent.

However, studies tell us that generational differences in things like attitudes and work preferences are relatively minor – ‘essentially zero in many cases’, as this meta-analysis says. Despite this, our preconceptions and generalisations about other age groups, whether conscious or unconscious, can have real adverse effects on our work.

For example, in this experiment, participants were asked to teach someone a digital task using an online chat function. With the help of photographs and voice manipulation software, the researchers changed whether the participants thought they were teaching someone in their 20s or 50s.

The results showed that when the trainer thought the trainee was older, they provided poorer-quality teaching, exposing how age-related biases (for example, the belief that older adults can’t learn new things) can negatively impact work.

Considering this, it’s essential to take steps to combat age-related stereotypes in the workplace, such as providing ongoing unconscious bias training for employees.

2. Open conversations around communication preferences

Open conversations around communication preferences

While it’s important to challenge harmful assumptions and generalisations about different generations, it’s also worth acknowledging that age (like many other factors) can affect a person’s work style.

Each generation has experienced and developed alongside different professional contexts, which can influence their values and preferences. This is particularly true when it comes to communication methods.

For example, over 50s – while perfectly capable of using other forms of communication – may place more importance on phone calls and face-to-face interactions because the early part of their careers came before the age of the internet.

However, Gen Zs, who’ve grown up as digital natives and spent a significant portion of their career working remotely, might automatically default to web-based forms of communication, like instant messaging.

No single communication method is best, so it’s key for business leaders to make the most of multiple channels and regularly revise communication best practices. Anonymous surveys are a helpful way to gauge how your team members are feeling about company communication methods and whether or not their preferences are being considered.

The UK's leading work and careers site for the over 50s

Rest Less is the UK’s fastest growing digital membership community, built to inspire the over 50s – through jobs, advice, volunteering, courses, health, lifestyle and more.

If you’re looking to recruit age diverse candidates from our talent pool of one million members, we’d be delighted to help you.

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3. Encourage collaboration and knowledge-sharing

Encourage collaboration and knowledge-sharing

One reason why multigenerational workforces are so effective is the variety they bring to the table. An age-diverse team can pool their diverse knowledge, experiences, and perspectives to better each other and generate innovative ideas.

However, generational divides (such as differing communication preferences) can lead to people of different age groups to work in isolation. Therefore, it’s important to encourage collaboration and knowledge sharing.

Managers can start by pairing people who don’t typically work together on projects. Remote teams can make the most of tools like Donut on Slack, which brings employees together for strategic conversations. However, leaders can also implement more formal programmes like mentoring and reverse mentoring schemes.

Reverse mentoring is when more junior workers mentor senior employees. This gives experienced staff a chance to gain skills and knowledge from younger colleagues – for example, insights into youth consumer attitudes. It can also help to break down common age-related stereotypes (for example, that younger generations have nothing to offer older ones).

However, as Mark A. Cohen explains, it’s not enough to simply ask employees to participate in these kinds of activities and programmes. To build a successful multigenerational team that collaborates and shares knowledge effectively, “teamwork must be a core element of [your] culture – in hiring, indoctrination, evaluation, and advancement.” So, it’s essential for managers to lead by example and embody teamwork and collaboration as core company values.

4. Avoid a one-size-fits-all approach

Avoid a one-size-fits-all approach

One popular myth in the management world is that you should treat everyone the exact same way. However, this approach doesn’t account for the diverse range of values, skills, goals, motivations, and needs of your team members (a spectrum that, if anything, is even wider in a multigenerational team).

It’s essential to be fair and never to discriminate or play favourites. But using a one-size-fits-all management approach can prevent managers from leveraging their team members’ individual strengths and giving them what they need to thrive.

Take gardening as an example. When a good gardener sets out to tend to the wide array of plants in his garden, he doesn’t look after each in the same way. While some need plenty of sun to thrive, others do best in the shade. And while some require regular watering, for others, this will do more harm than good.

With this in mind, it’s important to recognise your team members as individuals and get to know them through regular one-to-one meetings. Pay special attention to their strengths, weaknesses, sensitivities, and what motivates them so you can adapt your managerial style accordingly.

For example, research tells us that younger workers are less likely to speak up and share ideas than more experienced ones. So, to ensure that everyone’s ideas and opinions are heard, you may need to spend more time empowering and advocating for Gen Zs in meetings than Gen Xs or Baby Boomers.

The UK's leading work and careers site for the over 50s

Rest Less is the UK’s fastest growing digital membership community, built to inspire the over 50s – through jobs, advice, volunteering, courses, health, lifestyle and more.

If you’re looking to recruit age diverse candidates from our talent pool of one million members, we’d be delighted to help you.

Get in touch

5. Build a shared sense of purpose

Build a shared sense of purpose

‘Purpose’ is a buzzword that’s being used more and more in the world of work, and that’s because it’s becoming increasingly important to people. In fact, this McKinsey & Company survey found that 82% of employees believe it’s important for a company to have a purpose – ideally one that’s meaningful and socially positive.

However, it can also help to bridge generational divides, as a shared sense of purpose gives people a meaningful banner to rally behind. As Heidi K. Gardner and Denise Roberson tell us in the Harvard Business Review, “[a] shared sense of purpose among age groups unites and motivates.”

But how can leaders and managers actively build a shared sense of purpose in their teams?

Gardener and Roberson recommend holding meetings with mixed generational groups and asking them questions about their personal purpose and how it links to the company’s purpose. The experts explain that people usually come out of these sessions realising that their values are more similar than they might have thought, despite their differences (generational or otherwise).

Final thoughts…

In many respects, managing a multigenerational team is no different from one in which everyone is the same age. However, as we hope this article has shown, there are some strategies you can employ to help bridge generational divides and get the most from your team.

Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive, and there are plenty of other tips and tactics for making the most of your multigenerational team. For more help and support with this, you can email us at [email protected] or get in touch here.

Do you have any tips for managing a multigenerational team? If so, we’d love to hear from you in the comments below.