Managing a Multi-Generational Workforce

Jun 30, 2006

Katherine Spencer Lee

If you look around your IT department, chances are you see a wide age spectrum. Your team may include members of Generation Y, their slightly older counterparts in Generation X, Baby Boomers, and even those from the "Silent Generation," born just before World War II.

Experts note that with more people retiring at a later age, this is the first time four generations have worked together.

What does this diverse workforce mean for you as a leader? Challenge, certainly, but also many potential advantages.

Each generation brings to the table different approaches to their work, from the way they prefer to interact with others to how they view business strategies. The end result is a greater variety of opinions, creativity and talents. When managed effectively, a multigenerational team can add tremendous value to your organization.

Start by acknowledging that, while there are some common threads among particular generations, there also are many stereotypes about how they differ. For instance, it’s frequently assumed that younger IT professionals are more adept at mastering new technologies and staying on top of cutting-edge trends.

However, older employees who have extensive experience building knowledge with new applications and products over the years may be just as skilled, if not more so, at keeping their expertise current. Be careful about limiting or accelerating career potential within the department based on broad notions about particular age groups.

At the same time, you need to be sensitive to the differences that do exist among generations. For example, the concept of achieving work/life balance may hold varied meanings within your department.

Generation X workers may value flexible schedules that allow them to meet personal demands, while members of the Silent and Baby Boom generations may seek ways to ease into retirement. In fact, The New Retirement Survey from Merrill Lynch found that 76% of Boomers intend to keep working during retirement, with many preferring to “cycle” between periods of work and leisure.

Consequently, work/life balance initiatives for your team should be broad enough to address the priorities of all generations. Telecommuting, consulting arrangements and flexible scheduling should not be limited to those meeting specific criteria like being a working parent but, rather, to everyone who might benefit from the options.

The diversity of four generations provides a unique opportunity for knowledge sharing. But because employees in the various age groups may not naturally interact with each other on a daily basis, you may need to make a concerted effort to facilitate collaboration.

Mentoring programs are an excellent way to achieve this objective. Pairing less-experienced employees with more tenured IT professionals can help both generations develop a better understanding of each other and the unique qualities they bring to the department.

In addition, older participants may feel a sense of satisfaction and renewed confidence by being selected for the role, while younger staff can gain access to a valuable source of professional advice and expertise.

Often, groups tend to cluster based on age groups: young programmers assigned to enhance a new database, for example, or older management staff developing a firm’s IT strategy for the upcoming year. Making an active effort to diversify teams can help bring new perspectives and approaches to initiatives.

To minimize the potential for conflict such as senior employees wanting to establish a formal documentation process and junior staff preferring to speed the process along by exchanging information on an ad-hoc basis stress the importance of maintaining an open mind and welcoming different ideas and strategies.

A multigenerational workforce can provide many benefits to your company if you maximize the assets each group has to offer. You’ll not only get more out of your team, you will also boost individual job satisfaction, enabling you to minimize turnover at all age levels.

Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a provider of IT professionals for initiatives ranging from e-business development and multi-platform systems integration to network engineering and technical support. Robert Half Technology has more than 100 locations in the North America and Europe, and offers online job search services at


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