How to Effectively Lead a Multigenerational Workforce

By Michelle Hollewyn

How the heck do you lead a team in this day in age?

“It’s so stressful.”

“I can’t get through to people, they just want to take and not give.”

“They’re so set in their ways.”

I hear these things all the time from successful business owners. I have worked in HR for almost 20 years and I have seen a huge evolution in that time in the profession. The one thing that has always and will always be consistent, is that ‘people are people!’.

No two people are the same. We are all motivated by different things.

However, in the last few years, I have seen even more of a shift, and that is down to our ageing workforce in the UK and the fact our workplaces are now multigenerational. 

It has been reported that there are currently 5 generations working alongside each other, which can obviously cause levels of friction and confusion when expecting consistency from your team. So how do we motivate and engage these different generations? And how can we ensure they work well together? 

Well first, we need to understand them……

The 5 Different Generations

1. Traditionalists

Typically born between 1925 and 1945, this generation is likely to be at least semi-retired and value traditional master-servant relationships with their employer. They are often motivated by pride in a strong work ethic and reward. 

2. Baby Boomers

Baby Boomers were born after the Second World War (1946 – 1964) and prided themselves in rebuilding economies, working in hierarchies and structures, and often money is a huge motivating factor which reflects their worth. They are often characterised by extreme loyalty to one employer and take comfort in commitment to and from their organisation. 

3. Gen X

Born between 1965 and 1980, this generation sought more relaxed and flexible environments. They value the autonomy of work and have an entrepreneurial side which allows them to approach work with less focus on the ‘do and tell’ mentality, leading to more collaborative work. 

4. Millennials

Next, we have the Millennials, born between 1981 and 1996, this generation grew up in the technological world and often sought innovation and more creative solutions to work. They don’t mind challenging current ways of working and expect to be valued for their contributions. They also benefit from open and honest feedback.

5. Gen Z

Gen Z (those born from 1997 to 2015) are the most recent generation to enter the workforce and are often seen as demanding, expecting flexibility, to get promoted, and to move around organisations and job roles. This group also have a social conscience and expects their employer to have the same. Because they have grown up familiar with social media and the connectivity it brings, they see opportunities on a global level, rather than a small scale (although they also often value the ‘shop local’ ethos too!). 

What happens when you have a Baby Boomer managing a Gen Z?

It’s carnage, right? Well not quite, but not far off. Having read the above descriptors, you’re probably thinking, “How on earth can these groups all work together?”. 

If you’re someone who favours hierarchies and structures and has someone on your team who expects fluidity in their role and adapting to change is their norm, how will that ever work?

Well, maybe it’s a little easier than we think.

How do we bring them all together?

Let’s be honest, we know that ‘people are people’ and therefore, I can’t tell you there is a one-size-fits-all all way of managing and leading. However, the one thread that runs through this whole article is that people take pride in their work and flourish when they’re authentically themselves.

As we explore the generations and their characteristics, we see that while they’re all motivated by different things, they’re all motivated by how they value a ‘job well done’. All we have to do is find that out.

How do we know what will motivate them?

While the above categories are fairly well tested, we know that there will be variances and anomalies like any cross-sectional group. But the key is having awareness of the framework, having a good high-level understanding of the concepts, and then having individual conversations and really getting to know your team. 

You might find that by chatting to your Baby Boomer team member about how her dog has been trained is actually really evident of how that employee values discipline and structure. Whereas hearing about a Gen Z’s successful side hustle may give you an understanding of the value they place on flexibility.

The most successful leaders understand their teams, their strengths, and how they want to be managed. They structure tasks and work environments in a way that gets the best out of individuals and plays to emotions, not just the delivery of work, which is where we affect change. Those leaders adapt their style to suit the individual. They lead with a genuine sense of curiosity about how things can be done differently and approach matters with authenticity and care.

Regardless of when someone was born, they will still have individual goals and expectations and the key is for a successful leader to value their life experiences and lead from that place. In doing so, we create environments where people feel valued and seen and want to succeed for themselves, and the business.


Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. I hope you have found it interesting and it gives a helpful insight into the challenges employing an age-diverse workforce can present, and how leaders can start to adapt their approach. It would be great to know your thoughts on this topic!

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