• Published June 1, 2024
  • 9 Minute Read

Tactics for Leading Across Generations

In today’s organizations, 4+ generations are often working together. But the so-called generation gap in the workplace is mostly based on stereotypes. Our research reveals 10 key approaches for leading a multigenerational workforce or team.
Published June 1, 2024
Older man and younger woman discussing leading a Multigenerational Workforce or team and leading across generations

The Secret to Managing a Multigenerational Workforce

Feeling out of sync with colleagues of other generations as you work on projects and in teams? Some people call this the generation gap in the workplace.

But here’s a secret — regardless of age, they’re probably a lot more like you than you might expect.

Today, 5 generations are in the workforce: Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, Baby Boomers, and the Silent Generation. While some motivations differ, they do share similar desires. Employees of all generations, for example, want to work on teams with people they trust and care about.

Creating a team dynamic that works for everyone is essential — and it can be done.

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Watch our webinar, Generational Differences in Leadership, to learn how assumptions about the generation gap at work can create barriers to trust, collaboration, and inclusion.

10 Tactics for Leading Across Generations

How to Bridge the Gap of a Multigenerational Workforce

We’ve compiled 10 tactics to address the generation gap in the workplace and help leaders look past the stereotypes and effectively lead across generations. The approaches here are adapted from over a decade of our research, including our research on emerging leaders, which is based on data from thousands of Gen Z and Millennial young professionals around the world; our book What Millennials Want From Work; and our white paper What Makes a Leader Effective?, which polled Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials. These are the keys to successfully leading a multigenerational workforce.

1. Learn from one another.

Older workers often have significant experience that can’t be learned in school, and younger team members usually appreciate it when that wisdom is shared. But being told that something needs to be done a particular way just because it’s “how things are done around here” will open the door to pushback. Those who’ve been in the workforce for a long time should recognize that, just because things have been done a certain way in the past, that doesn’t mean it’s the best way for the future.

There’s a stereotype that younger workers think they should be exempt from boring work. Older team members may remember “paying their dues” earlier in their careers and have no sympathy. But what if, working together, you could come up with alternatives to doing repetitive work, or at least find ways to reduce it considerably?

Younger employees, many of them digital natives, may have ideas or technology options that haven’t been explored, and more experienced employees have the knowledge and expertise to make new processes work. That’s why some organizations, recognizing the need to bridge the generation gap in the workplace, are beginning to partner their older and younger team members in formal or informal reverse mentoring arrangements.

2. Foster wellbeing.

Want to keep your organization competitive in retaining employees of all ages? Consider our best practices that support employee wellbeing and leading across generations. These include helping young workers nurture a broad network of relationships both inside and outside the office, and encouraging regular exercise and time for mindful reflection.

Remember to lead by example. “Walk and talk” meetings can help marry business with exercise, while a daily “out of office” email reply after work makes it clear that team members aren’t expected to be on call 24-7.

Workers of all generations report that they’re more likely to stay with their organizations if flexible schedules are allowed and remote working is supported. Employees of all ages are willing to work long hours but also want to have a life outside of work. Whether raising families, preparing for retirement, caring for elderly parents, or pursuing personal interests, employees often feel that their organizations forget that they have lives outside work.

3. Share values and show respect.

We often hear that younger people are disrespectful of older employees and people in authority. We also hear complaints that older people show no respect for younger talent and ideas. Many people think that older and younger people value vastly different things.

However, our research has shown that different generations actually have fairly similar values. For example, “family”  is the value chosen most frequently by people of all generations. Other widely shared values include the following:

  • Integrity
  • Achievement
  • Love
  • Competence
  • Happiness
  • Self-respect
  • Wisdom
  • Balance
  • Responsibility

The reality is that everyone wants pretty much the same thing, which is for their organizations to cultivate a culture of respect — they just don’t define it in the same way. Some would argue this is really the secret to teamwork and leading a multigenerational workforce.

Our research shows that today’s young professionals also prioritize value alignment between their personally held beliefs and their organization’s mission and driving principles. Clearly defining and communicating what your organization stands for is an important way to deliver upon this. Also, take steps to show that you value the perspectives of the youngest members of your team, especially around issues such as equity, diversity, and inclusion.

4. Be a trustworthy leader.

By and large, people of all generations value trust in the workplace. At all levels, they trust the people they work with directly — such as bosses, peers, and direct reports — more than they trust their organizations. And people trust their organization more than they trust upper management.

What do different generations expect from their leaders? Conventional wisdom says older generations want a command-and-control type of leader and that younger generations want leaders who include them more in decision-making. But our research says that effective leadership is less about style and more about substance. People of all generations want leaders who are credible and trustworthy, above all else.

5. Promote psychological safety.

Our research study with Y20 found that 41% of young adults (ages 18–30) want to lead in the future. The top personal barrier getting in their way: psychological safety.

A psychologically safe workplace encourages workers of all ages to make meaningful contributions. Young professionals want a sense of belonging at work and to feel accepted for who they are, including those characteristics and perspectives that make them different from others. They also want encouragement to learn and grow — without fear of repercussions for asking questions or making mistakes.

To promote psychological safety at work, consider asking your senior leaders to share stories about mistakes they’ve made, or use organization-wide meetings or newsletters to share “failing forward” stories that encourage risk-taking. This transparency makes it clear across generations that missteps are an opportunity to deepen learning.

6. Communicate change.

The stereotype is that older people hate change and younger generations thrive on it, but these are inaccurate assumptions. In general, people from all generations are uncomfortable with change and can experience change fatigue. Resistance to change has nothing to do with age; it’s all about how much someone has to gain or lose with the change.

The best way to manage change and be a successful change leader is to communicate. Send out memos, host meetings, or implement an open-door policy that embraces communication. Make your team feel comfortable with asking questions and voicing concerns.

7. Break down silos.

The ability to build bridges — across an organization’s divisions and across a multigenerational workforce — is important. Successful leaders must help everyone learn how to span boundaries.

Help your young leaders view boundaries not as barriers, but as opportunities for new ways of working and collaborating. Ensure they understand the social aspects of their role and how to work through and with others to achieve results, regardless of age and other factors. One way to break down silos and lead across generations: Set aside time for colleagues of all ages to share their stories, including how their personal background and social identity influence the way they work.

8. Do the right things to retain talent.

It’s as easy to retain a young person as it is to retain an older one — if you do the right things. Just about everyone feels overworked and underpaid. People of all generations have the same ideas about what their organization can do to retain them. Employees want room to advance, respect and recognition, better quality of life, and fair compensation.

An audit of leadership representation — and whether multigenerational voices and perspectives are included when important decisions are made — is one thing to consider. By engaging a diverse cross-section of young employees in your analysis, you can broaden your perspective when leading a multigenerational workforce. After the audit and review, you’ll be poised to take informed steps to level-up access and make your talent management processes a lever for change.

9. Create a learning culture.

Everyone wants to learn — more than just about anything else. Learning and development were among the issues most frequently mentioned by study participants of all generations. Everyone wants to make sure they have the training necessary to do their current job well.

Leading across generations includes creating a learning culture that prioritizes and rewards gaining and sharing knowledge. You can also help employees create a personalized development roadmap that provides a clear understanding of what the organization needs, how their performance compares to peers, and which improvements they must make to support success. Building the core leadership skills needed in every role and career stage is another way to boost employee motivation and learning.

10. Build coaching skills.

Almost everyone wants a coach. We’ve heard that younger people are constantly asking for feedback and can’t get enough of it. We’ve also heard that older people don’t want any feedback at all. According to our research, everyone wants to know how they’re doing and wants to learn how to do better. Feedback can come in many forms, and people of all generations appreciate receiving it. Building coaching skills and a coaching culture at your organization can help.

Equipping everyone to hold coaching conversations can help create a stronger organizational culture for workers of all ages.

Leading a Multigenerational Workforce or Team: Final Thoughts

Our research shows that, fundamentally, people want the same things, no matter what generation they represent. So the so-called generation gap in the workplace is, in large part, the result of miscommunication and misunderstanding, fueled by common insecurities and the desire for clout. Successfully leading across generations is actually pretty straightforward.

So let go of your assumptions about the challenges of a multigenerational workforce, and spend more time developing your leaders of all ages.

Ready to Take the Next Step?

Support your multigenerational workforce by scaling leadership development across your organization. Partner with us on an enterprise solution, such as CCL Passport™, that supports learning and growth for your leaders at every level.

  • Published June 1, 2024
  • 9 Minute Read
  • Download as PDF

Based on Research by

Jennifer Deal
Jennifer Deal, PhD
Former Senior Research Scientist

Jennifer’s work with us focused on global leadership and generational differences around the world. An internationally recognized expert on generational differences, Jennifer has published on generational issues, executive selection, cultural adaptability, global management, and women in management. She’s the co-author of What Millennials Want from Work: How to Maximize Engagement in Today’s Workforce.

Jennifer’s work with us focused on global leadership and generational differences around the world. An internationally recognized expert on generational differences, Jennifer has published on generational issues, executive selection, cultural adaptability, global management, and women in management. She’s the co-author of What Millennials Want from Work: How to Maximize Engagement in Today’s Workforce.

Stephanie Wormington
Stephanie Wormington, PhD
Former Director, Global Strategic Research

Stephanie is a researcher with a background in developmental and educational psychology. Her research at CCL focused primarily on promoting equitable and inclusive organizational cultures, exploring collective leadership through networks, and enhancing motivation and empowerment for leaders across their professional journeys.

Stephanie is a researcher with a background in developmental and educational psychology. Her research at CCL focused primarily on promoting equitable and inclusive organizational cultures, exploring collective leadership through networks, and enhancing motivation and empowerment for leaders across their professional journeys.

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About CCL

At the Center for Creative Leadership, our drive to create a ripple effect of positive change underpins everything we do. For 50+ years, we've pioneered leadership development solutions for everyone from frontline workers to global CEOs. Consistently ranked among the world's top providers of executive education, our research-based programs and solutions inspire individuals in organizations across the world — including 2/3 of the Fortune 1000 — to ignite remarkable transformations.