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Managing Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials


A lot has been made in recent years about the different generations in the workforce.

Born between 1946-1964 ‘Baby Boomers’ are associated with characteristics such as loyalty, dedication and willingness to stay in the job for a long time. Generation Xers (born between 1965-1981) possess more of an entrepreneurial spirit, embrace change and are more tech savvy than the generation that preceded them.

In contrast, the Generation Y or “millenials” have added further fuel to the fire, these tech whizz kids who have grown up with more friends online than in reality have been creating dilemmas for HR and management for years as they are more likely to jump ship whilst simultaneously demanding more feedback and opportunities for progression.

But just how much of a difference is there between how a Boomer, a Gen Xer and a Millenial want to be managed, developed and coached?

Laura Burton is the HR Director for the UK & Ireland at SAP who has over 20 years’ experience recruiting, managing and retaining top talent across multiple generations.

When discussing this topic Laura noted that: “Understanding the engagement and retention challenges of the multi-generational workforce is critical to the success of any organisation today, as the simple reality is that organisations need each of these generations.”

“Recent research highlights a general trend towards declining employer loyalty from generation to generation with 65% of Boomers stating that they would consider staying with an organisation throughout their working lives in comparison to just 20% of Millenials.”

“Clearly this trend shows organisations and their managers need to be astute in their understanding of what motivates and engages employees and be able to reflect that understanding in the way that work is rewarded and generations are managed.”

Despite the overwhelming evidence looking at the differences between generations, are there really that many differences in how different generations want to be managed, coached and engaged? Could it be that employees have different preferences and attitudes towards management, regardless of their generation?

“I believe every person is unique and wants to be addressed in a personal way.” Notes Sharlyn Lauby, author of the HR Bartender blog and President of the ITM Group – a global consultancy that specialises in helping companies retain and engage employees.

“Managers shouldn’t guess a person’s age and assume they know the best way to manage, develop or coach an employee. They should get to know their employees, understand their mindset and find out how that employee would like to be managed.”

What are your thoughts on the challenges facing HR today? Wherever you stand in the debate we would love to hear from you. Sign up to a 20 Minute Master Class, read more insights from Sharlyn and Laura in the latest edition of the SuccessFactors magazine and join the conversation on Twitter  and LinkedIn.

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      Author's profile photo Sven Ringling
      Sven Ringling

      Very much agree with the principle of managing each team member as an individual. Sure, there are changing trends triggered by generational differences as much as by changing technological, organisational, social and environmental context.

      Managers have to learn and may need support to learn about those changing trends and what is referred to as typical Gen Y is an important element and helpful concept. However, assuming behaviours just based on an age group won't do much good