Coaching Differences in the Workforce

September 2015 - By Julie Leake - FocusED 2015 | Issue 2 - With such disparate values, work ethics, goals, and outlooks, how do you employ those differences to your advantage?

Where do I start?

First you need to identify and understand the characteristics of the different generations (See Bridging the Generational Communication Gap). Managers who know what motivates multi-generational employees are more effective in keeping them engaged. An engaged workforce results in higher retention, and reduced turnover and training costs. Next, you need to assess your situation. Carefully analyze the landscape of your current and future workforce, as well as your current and future customer base. Consider these key questions:

  1. What is the generational composition of your current workforce?
  2. Does the proportion of generations in your workforce reflect the proportion in the profession?
  3. Is there a concentration of generations in various levels of positions?
  4. Is there a higher attrition rate among members of one generation?
  5. What are your current human resources practices, and how do they support generational differences?
  6. Does the proportion of generations in the workforce reflect the proportion in the customer base? Are generational differences taken into account to ensure communication about the product/service can be “heard” by members of all generations? Which generations use the products or services?

Begin to take action:

  • FOCUS on the similarities. We all want to be successful in our careers. Communicate so everyone sees the value of his or her contribution. Regardless of age, everyone wishes to feel appreciated and valued.
  • UNDERSTAND the differences among the way each group approaches work and what makes each employee important on your team.
  • OPTIMIZE the strengths: Traditionalists are loyal employees, Baby Boomers are highly optimistic, Gen Xers value independence and flexibility, and Millennials value teamwork and personal connection. A team can gain and maintain greater market share because its members reflect a multi-generational market.
  • REALIZE the possible weaknesses. Younger workers, without experience, may not see the potential hazards and pitfalls of business. Older workers may be too focused on the way things have always been done, and thus be resistant to accepting new procedures and new technologies.
  • BUILD and promote a learning environment conducive to attracting and retaining a cross-section of individuals.
  • ESTABLISH a strategic vision for motivating, coaching and developing diverse employees.
  • CREATE a variety of learning and development experiences that engage and empower individuals to achieve shared business objectives.

Now that you understand the issues, have assessed your situation, and acknowledged your goals the question remains: “how do you keep the peace and create a harmonious, productive work place?”

How do I engage my employees?

Educate everyone and make training a priority. Focus on generational perceptions in the workplace and provide advice to managers and employees alike, on how to adapt communication, learning, and engagement styles. Identify learning styles and focus on how your employees are accessing new knowledge and information in their personal lives, and incorporate that into your employee training. Promote knowledge inheritance by making a commitment to retain corporate knowledge across generations. This keeps your organization competitive and keeps information from slipping through the cracks due to generational departures. Facilitate mentoring between the generations to encourage cross-generational interaction. Each group has a different perspective—all valid—all worthy of consideration. Younger employees can learn from the wisdom of the older employees; older employees can benefit from entertaining fresh perspectives from younger employees. Mentoring also ensures that critical skills sets and job knowledge are transferred to employees. Zoom Out and focus on being results-oriented rather than process-oriented. You can do this by offering flexibility such as telecommuting or flexible scheduling. Allow Millennials to participate in open collaborations. Accommodate, encourage, and support different learning and communication styles. Baby Boomers respond to traditional training methods (PowerPoint presentations, handouts, classroom, etc.), while Millennials respond to more interactive, technology-based forms of learning. Baby Boomers prefer to communicate by phone or in person; Millennials by emailing, texting, or sending instant messages. Expand your company communication method policy to include these differences. Loosen Up and encourage a less structured, less routine, environment. Eliminate regular meetings unless they are necessary. This will satisfy the Baby Boomers’ and Veterans’ need for structure while allowing the Millennials and Gen Xers to dispense with formality. Recognize employees and create programs that cater to the different styles. Everyone wants their contributions to be recognized. Reward performance and productivity, not just years spent on the job. Many service award programs reward employees 50+ for their seniority. A good Pay for Performance system encourages and rewards productivity without regard for age or seniority. Rewards and recognition should reflect each group’s preferences and priorities. For example, Millennials prefer to receive feedback early and often. Boomers, on the other hand, may feel that continuous feedback is a form of micromanaging. Allow Feedback and a way for employees to have a voice where they can present ideas, raise concerns, and express complaints. This creates an environment that says “We value our employee’s opinions.”

In Conclusion

For managers who have four or even five generations of employees sitting in a meeting or working on a project, it can seem like each group has its own world views, priorities, career models and motives. Managing these differences can seem daunting. Employers need to develop an understanding of all the different characteristics and the impact of their own management practices on these groups. They also need to leverage all the diverse strengths. With the variety of employees in today’s workplace, companies can no longer abide by traditional rules of leadership and management. Organizations can achieve real strategic advantage by embracing diversity and creating a flexible work environment that values all people and keeps them productive, regardless of age. Harnessing this unprecedented opportunity for growth, development, and collaboration, and building bridges between generations, ensures that your company will thrive. Resources:


Which one are you?

Welcome to the 9 a.m. Monday sales meeting at XYZ Corp. The Baby Boomer sales manager arrives early wearing his standard jacket and tie and carrying his semi-ironic “World’s Best Boss” coffee mug. He checks his e-mail on his Dell laptop while he waits for the others to arrive. There’s a message from the Veteran-era CEO sent at 4:15 a.m. (man, that guy gets up early) asking about sales figures from March. The Boomer manager knows that the CEO expects to have those figures—or at least a response—when he walks in the door this morning. The Generation X saleswoman shows up with her Starbucks in hand, dressed in her usual jeans and a T-shirt (most sales are done over the phone nowadays). She’s on her cell, giving instructions to her husband, who’s staying home with the baby for a couple of months. When she’s off the phone, the Boomer manager starts to chat with her about her weekend, but she quickly pops open her MacBook and says she has to take care of some e-mails. The Boomer silently wonders if any of them are the three unanswered messages he sent to her last week. Both of their cell phones (his: Blackberry; hers: iPhone) vibrate with an incoming text message. It’s the new guy, a Generation Y kid straight out of college, asking if it’s all right if he does the meeting via Skype. He ended up spending the weekend at a friend’s place in New York and thought he could work remotely today and catch a flight back tonight. Roos, Dave. “How Generation Gaps Work” 23 May 2011. <> 16 July 2015.