How to Lead and Engage a Multigenerational Workforce
Every workforce is multigenerational.
But your employment engagement strategy probably isn’t built with that in mind. You’re probably thinking of people by their job titles and skills — not their generational cohort.
That’s not a bad thing, necessarily, but it can lead to one of two problems. Your engagement strategy might be outdated, only engaging older generations, or chase trends favored by younger generations. To reduce turnover and hold on to your top performers, you need to account for generational differences. You should offer engagement strategies that will appeal to both.
I’m Nicole M. Dubois, Chief Human Resources Officer at Graham Windham, and I’ve worked with multigenerational workforces for my entire 17-year career. Here’s how you can keep everyone engaged with your values and your mission—no matter which generation they’re from.
Workforce management vs. engagement
Before diving in, let’s draw a clear line between “managing” your workforce and “engaging” them.
Management is about making sure your workforce’s needs and wants are met to keep them productive. Strong management ensures employees have what they need—skills, time, and support—to do their best work.
Engagement is about building a workplace where they can thrive and feel connected to something greater. It’s creating a culture where employees are excited to do more than just clock in and out. Organizations and leaders have these tools for doing this:
- Building a workplace that supports everyone’s work style.
- Crafting an inclusive culture.
- Matching compensation to what employees truly value.
- Helping your employees feel like they’re doing work that matters.
Here’s how you can leverage them effectively.
Start by asking questions
To find the best method of keeping a multigenerational workforce engaged, ask them for their input. A platform like 15Five allows your leaders to get input from everyone completely anonymously, while still being able to assign specific feedback to generational brackets in your workforce.
Whether you’re trying to improve your company culture, make changes to your workplace, or even upgrade your compensation package, getting feedback from everyone helps you make decisions that benefit everyone.
While it’s tempting to chase trends or rely on the latest research to make these decisions, nothing beats asking your workforce what they think.
Think of all generations (not just the youngest)
When trying to engage a multigenerational workforce, leaders too often think exclusively of younger generations—like Gen Z. They want to chase the latest work trends to attract or retain young talent. But as lifespans increase and employees retire later, your workforce is more likely to get older than younger. Nearly twice as many Americans aged 65 and older were employed in 2023 compared to 35 years ago.
When you’re working on new ways to engage your workforce, you can’t just be looking forward. You need to think of older employees, too. Just because their preferences don’t match Gen Z’s doesn’t mean they’re not worth catering to.
Chasing the latest trends can leave older employees feeling alienated as the workplace changes. If you want to retain these top performers, think of ways you can accommodate those who won’t benefit as much from the latest trends.
Create a work culture that works for everyone
While the days when snail mail and phone calls were the only reliable means of communication are gone, that doesn’t mean you should just replace them with Slack messages and texting. While younger employees are more likely to answer a reach-out over text—and less likely to commute to work—representatives of other generations in your workforce have different work styles.
When you make those important decisions that will contribute to your organization’s culture, you need to be thinking about how they affect the different generations across your workforce. Sure, your CEO may insist that they want to see everyone in the office. But is that the best way to keep everyone engaged?
Generally, imbuing flexibility in the way you work is the best way to create something that works for everyone. Instead of having a fully remote or in-office work culture, give people the opportunity to work from home at least a few days a week. Rather than making every meeting a Zoom call, try to get some face time with your team every so often.
Look for change in the most unlikely places
Just because something has always been a standard doesn’t mean it still works for everyone.
Think of the venerable 401(k) match, for instance. For decades, this was one of the most common benefits employees wanted out of their compensation package—to the point that they might reject a job offer that didn’t include it. But this isn’t a benefit that’s desirable for all generations.
For example, we’ve found that Gen Z employees are often more interested in student loan repayment assistance programs than a 401(k) match. It makes sense when you think about it; student loans are among this generation’s most pressing financial matters. Looking into providing a program like this is a great way to show your Gen Z employees that your organization has their needs in mind.
When looking for ways you can make your organization more engaging for all generations, leave no stone unturned.
Don’t let generational differences overshadow individual differences
One last thing to keep in mind; don’t let stereotypes guide your decisions. It’s all too easy to paint all employees of a certain generation with a broad brush, even when you have the best of intentions.
As you ask questions, make sure to account for individual differences as much as—if not more than—generational differences. Just because one of your employees is from the Boomer generation doesn’t mean they have no interest in learning about the latest tech your business is using, just like some Gen Z workers love having more face time with their managers.
Use generational differences as a guide when working on your employee engagement strategy, but keep the individuals at heart, too.
Make your workplace a place that works for everyone
Having a multigenerational workforce is a massive asset. You get different perspectives for solving problems and a healthy mix of new talent and decades of experience. While this can make your employee engagement strategy a bit trickier, it’s worth the effort, and it’ll create a healthier workplace for everyone.
About the Author
Nicole DuBois is a people-oriented and dedicated leader and human resources executive with more than 17 years of organization-wide leadership experience. She possesses broad experience in Talent and Organizational Management and is a proven leader with a penchant for talent development and quality improvement strategies. Nicole delivers strategies for improving organizational efficiencies and is focused on continually exceeding corporate and agency objectives ensuring mission and vision alignment. Nicole is a mentor, board member, advisory board member and is often sought out for thought leadership.
Nicole is a graduate of Fordham and New York Universities where she earned her Bachelor of Science in Psychology & Urban Studies and Master’s in Counseling for Mental Health & Wellness. She is presently the Chief Human Resources Officer at a Graham Windham, the nonprofit human services organization in New York City originally founded by three women including Eliza Hamilton (the then orphanage, founded in 1806 is mentioned in the Broadway musical, Hamilton!). In her leisure time, Nicole enjoys traveling internationally and creative writing. Nicole was born and raised in New York City and currently resides in New Jersey with her husband, 13-year-old son and 19 year-old stepson.