Managing an Intergenerational Workforce

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Workplace Generations

The new diversity in the workplace is a result of an intergenerational workforce! The book Generations at Work: Managing the Clash of Boomers, Gen Xers, and Gen Yers in the Workplace defines four modern generations:

  • Veterans (born 1920-1942)
  • Baby Boomers (born 1943-1960)
  • Generation X (born 1961-1979)
  • Millennials (born 1980-2000)

They note that “there is a growing realization that the gulf of misunderstanding and resentment between older, not so old and younger employees in the workplace is growing and problematic.” It’s a mix of styles, values, perceptions of quality and service. And while the veterans cohort is shrinking through attrition (retirement/resignation, etc.) the other three generations are sizeable.

The boomers number 80 million, the Gen Xers 46 million and the Millennials 76 million. These numbers suggest a multi-generation workforce for quite some time to come. Let’s look at the health care industry as an example.

The Demographics of the Health Care Industry

The health care industry is faced with an aging cohort of patients and a significant shortage of health care professionals who also are aging. This shift in patient and workforce demographics will create a generational gap between older patients and younger health care providers, affecting the care delivered in hospitals. Hospitals and health systems that create productive multigenerational teams will be well-positioned to handle the evolving challenges of the health care industry. In contrast, organizations that fail to effectively manage an intergenerational workforce will experience high employee turnover; pay higher costs for recruitment, training and retention; and have lower patient satisfaction scores and worse clinical outcomes.

In 2013 the American Hospital Association’s Committee on Performance Improvement developed the report Managing an Intergenerational Workforce: Strategies for Health Care Transformation, to help hospitals and care systems build an organizational culture that develops and nurtures employees of all ages.

The report outlines three key strategies for health care leaders to implement:

  • Build A Strong Generational Foundation – develop programs and policies that will support individuals at all levels of the organization.
  • Establish Effective Generational Management Practices – increase the level of generational understanding among managers and supervisors to better manage their teams and relieve generational tensions in the workplace.
  • Build Generational Competence – develop practices to leverage intergenerational strengths.

Managing a More Cohesive Workplace

Many work settings are made up of a broad range of ages in their workforce. On one end of the continuum, the boomers who are nearing the end of their careers and on the other Generation X and  Millennial who embrace a different set of perspectives on workplace behavior. The AARP Bulletin provides some interesting insights for older workers who find themselves working with colleagues who are decades younger. These factors have been useful to employers in managing an age-diverse workplace.

Suggestions include:

  • Listen, don’t lecture – don’t do all of the talking. Ask questions.
  • Don’t be patronizing – be generous with compliments and support.
  • Don’t pretend you fit in – you are not one of them.
  • Keep up with pop culture – stay tuned in about shows, music, and social media.
  • Share your expertise – share your perspective in a positive and collaborative way.
  • Accept the changing of the guard – be willing to help them succeed.

Getting the Most Out of an Intergenerational Workforce

To get the most out of employees, managers and employers must understand each of the generations. This requires understanding how they interact with those around them, what brings out the best in them, what each generation requires in the workplace to perform at their highest level.


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