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Leading a multi-generational workplace

In today’s workforce, there are four active generations, all with very different needs, goals, and work styles. We see Boomers that are incredibly loyal to their employer, Gen Xers are independent, millennials crave collaboration, and Gen Zers look for diversity. With such an array of beliefs, how do us managers cater to all the generations without either being too biased towards one or off-putting towards another? This infographic sums up the four generations, but is managing them all easier said than done?

I am incredibly fortunate, that throughout my career, I have worked with businesses, and held management positions where all four generations of the workforce are represented. This is the beauty of retail and hospitality, age has no boundary, and experience cannot be replicated by effort.

Management is easy, its the people that make it difficult

It has always been important to me, that I give each member the support and guidance they deserve without causing rifts. Sometimes this is harder than imagined, as each generation has specific needs - but like my first retail boss, Frank, once said to me; "management is easy Martin, its the people that make it difficult - Not that they are in any way difficult people, just that they are who they are" I was 20 at the time, and just been promoted from Christmas temp in Sheffield to Asst Manager at WHSmith in Ripon. I am not sure I was ready to listen to Frank at that moment, of course I knew it all. However, over the next few years I quickly learned... Its not up to them to change. It's up to me, their manager, to change my approach, in order to get the best out of each individual.

It's a unique time with four distinct generations now often at work together. With this wide range of individuals in a team, it is a challenge to manage and focus its many and varied abilities toward achieving higher productivity and profits. I think over the years, in general I have done ok, but not by accident. Sometimes this has meant stepping out of my comfort zone.

I dont like to give 'top tips', it kind of implies that if you follow the list you'll get it all figured out. Leadership isn't like that. However, there are 6 pillars that I consider fundamental to great multi generational leadership. All 6 start and end with flexibility.


I am a firm believer that we should celebrate the diversity of having a multi-generational workforce. I always try and commit to communicating and catering individually to the needs of each generation.

Emotional Intelligence

The starting point has always got to be understanding yourself. Develop your emotional intelligence, and you will soon learn to 'feel' what is right and wrong. It can be a bit uncomfortable at first. But like a new pair of shoes pinching when you first put them on - you know how comfy they will become with persistence. I am emotionally intelligent because I am self-confident and open-minded, which over the years has created a pretty thick skin. I can poke fun at myself or let other people make jokes about me because I am able to mentally draw the line between humor and degradation. Emotional intelligence means knowing how to exert self-control.

A culture of mutual respect, collaboration and cooperation

A place where knowledge and different experiences are accepted and valued and where differences are seen as strengths not weaknesses. I carried out a survey a few years ago, which clearly showed respectful treatment of all employees as the number-one contributor to job satisfaction. Trust between employees and senior management was the second. This means that above all of the perks and management tricks, treating each other like people is what really matters. Whether you’re starting a company or part of growing one, developing a culture of respect and trust should be a priority.

Don't be afraid, actively embrace.

Build teams from employees of different ages, experiences, skills, and viewpoints.

Employ cross generation mentoring

Younger team members can learn institutional experience and industry knowledge, direct inter-personal communications skills and social networking from the older team; yet experienced workers can learn from their younger colleagues new technologies and proficiencies. Each can learn much from the others knowledge, insights and experience. As we all know, experience doesn't always qualify success - as we all know, there is a massive difference between 10 years experience, and 1 years experience repeated 10 times.

Introduce flexible working practices

This is really important to me. I have always managed my management teams with the philosophy of "as long as the work is done". I am prepared to allow the odd hours to be taken, for the benefits to morale that a better work/life balance brings... Nobody will ever get a hard time from me for this - That is, as long as the job is done. Again and again, flexibility has been shown to increase morale and productivity and makes your business more attractive to the new Gen Y prospective employees, by demonstrating a high degree of employee care, independence and trust.

Nurture a learning environment

One thing remains the same across the generations: employees of every age seek ongoing opportunities to learn and grow. Younger staff without the same loyalty ‘gene’ as older staff will quickly leave if they feel they are not being challenged, valued, and developed. Often overlooked in the bigger picture, a learning culture is when a business puts a strong emphasis on encouraging its members to understand its values, practices, beliefs, skill sets, and conventions. This enables employees to gain the knowledge and abilities needed to perform at their best, better satisfy our customers, and help our business grow.

So how do I know ?

Great leaders connect with their team by facilitating open communication, encouraging employee growth and development, and giving and receiving feedback.

How do I know I am successful, how do I know I am a good leader - will I ever feel that ?

Well, like i said earlier, to be an effective leader, you must understand your own motivations, strengths and weaknesses. Great leaders connect with their team by facilitating open communication, encouraging employee growth and development, and giving and receiving feedback. Anyone can sit in a corner office and delegate tasks, but there is more to effective leadership than that. Effective leaders have major impacts on not only the team members they manage, but also their company as a whole. A great leader is one who makes those around them better. Teams that work under great leaders tend to be happier, more productive and more connected to their organisation – they are growing, becoming better leaders themselves, motivated, communicative - above all, they are engaged. All this has a ripple effect that reaches a business's bottom line.

I look around my teams of the past, and remember that my team members have largely been engaged in their work. I have never knowingly had anybody on my team afraid to criticise one of my ideas - ever. I have always endeavored to regularly engage each of them with a completely non-work-related conversation.

I would also say, that given a conducive environment, none of my team members are afraid to fail.

In summary - I may not be perfect, but I have always striven to adapt my style to the environment, treat all generations in my workforce with respect and always be the best me I can be - nobody can take that away.

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