Feedback from students in the course I teach at Villanova, titled Managing the Intergenerational Workforce, once again supports my contention that:

1) most employers are either oblivious to or in denial about the historic impact of four dominant generations in the workforce, and

2) transformational changes in public and corporate policies are needed to avert seismic intergenerational conflict over jobs, pay, benefits and advancement opportunities.

I have taught the one-of-a-kind course for two semesters. In both cases, as students developed an understanding of the fundamental differences between and among Traditionals (born before 1946), Boomers (1946 to 1964), Gen X (1965 to 1980) and Gen Y (born after 1980), they recounted their own experiences and expressed their frustrations with attitudes and behaviors they felt define each generation:

* Traditionals resist change and stubbornly hold on to the old ways.
* Boomers have had a good run but are blocking career paths because they won’t/can’t retire.
* Gen Xers are out for themselves and expect too much.
* GenYs have a poor work ethic and can’t be counted on.

Stereotypical? Perhaps. The point is: that is how the generations are perceived and how they perceive one another. The reaction of audiences to presentations I’ve made recently provides further confirmation that people are just becoming aware of the implications of the pronounced multi-generational environment we live and work in. For the first time in history, the US workforce is divided among four distinct psychographic groups, each a product of the events and experiences that shape attitudes, beliefs, values, relationships and ultimately behavior. In one instance, the older attendees at a luncheon meeting of business professionals became increasingly agitated when I advocated greater empathy and tolerance for generational differences, especially concerning Gen Ys. “Why should we have to be considerate of them? They owe us respect.” exclaimed a particularly irate woman. A twenty something, echoing the sentiments of his generation, shot back, “Stop treating us like children and pay attention to what we have to say.”

The fomenting conflict among generational cohorts in many organizations will reach the critical point when the economy improves and operations are affected by disruptions, defiance and defections by young and old workers. Contributing to the divisiveness in the workplace are growing convictions that, for example, higher pay levels for older workers are based unfairly on longevity rather than merit; older workers resist mastering new performance enhancing technology, thereby putting entire groups at a disadvantage when working for performance incentives; lifestyle HR policies seem to favor younger workers; investing in younger workers is a bad bet because they have no loyalty to the job or the company; health care costs are increasing because older workers need more, expensive medical care.

If your organization hasn’t started thinking about the multi-generational work force, I urge you to give the subject your attention now. Just as wars will inevitably be fought over potable water (, intergenerational conflict will become a potentially damaging reality for many employers across most major industries. The metaphor fits because both will be the result of increasing demand for diminishing resources.

Based on my research, teaching and hands-on experience in the multi-generational market for more than 10 years, I have developed an approach to managing and motivating the four dominant cohorts in the workforce. I have also earned certification as a master trainer for a leading program on avoiding communication clash points among the generations. My goal is to make The Solutions Network, Inc. the premiere resource for intergenerational consulting and training.

Described below are the 10 steps in the process of converting a multi-generational workforce into a high performing intergenerational team.

1. Study generational composition of your workforce – The first step is to take stock of what you’ve got by developing a census of the workforce by age, gender and skill level. Then plot the age data according to the four generations (Traditionals, Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y). Next, study the similarities and dissimilarities among the four generations to understand the underlying motivations for each group.
2. Prepare a workforce forecast – Now that you know what you’ve got, prepare a forecast of the human capital in terms of competencies and experience your firm is likely to need based on certain scenarios. Do a side-by-side comparison of the workforce you have and the workforce you believe you will need three to five years out; then decide what adjustments should be made and how best to make them.
3. Train managers and supervisors about intergenerational differences and issues – Most managers and supervisors need to step back from their daily routines to understand the causes of multi-generational stress. On the one hand, they must be fair arbiters of age-related disputes. However, they must also be aware of the emotional, cognitive and physical changes older workers experience and the possible influence on the worker’s ability to perform.
4. Match HR policies to the needs of the workforce – HR policies should be reviewed every two years or so to ensure that they are compliant and aligned with needs of the employer and the employee. Older workers, for example, may need customized training or retraining, different types of communications and more time to prepare for the transition to retirement. And always make certain that HR policies are closely linked with the achievement of business metrics; otherwise, HR is a waste of resources.
5. Be creative in designing compensation plans – Cash compensation is important to all workers, regardless of age. As needs and time horizons change, however, how and when compensation is received become strategic issues for older workers who, in anticipation of retirement, are learning to manage their assets for gain and tax effectiveness.
6. Include all generations on committees and task groups – One very effective way to recognize the experience and skills of older workers and the potential of younger workers is to include them on committees and task groups whose opinions and recommendations are solicited by management. It may be advisable to have someone outside of the group facilitate the first few sessions to help ensure that potential conflicts don’t impede communication.
7. Design and implement a comprehensive communication plan – Communicating with older workers may require greater frequency and more dependence on print media. Older workers also tend to rely more on peer communications than their younger counterparts. On the other hand, Boomers are now using the Internet and social media as much as their younger coworkers, so be careful to maintain a balance and avoid falling into the stereotype traps.
8. Offer lateral movement – Boomers are achievers, but personal growth and professional advancement need no longer be equated with climbing the career ladder. Particularly in the later stages of their careers, older workers can derive personal satisfaction and make a valuable contribution by moving laterally or diagonally into a different position or function. Often, lateral moves can also offer greater flexibility as well as opportunities for interim assignments or mentoring younger workers.
9. Offer flexibility - Flexible scheduling, job sharing, part time work, sabbaticals for community service and leaves of absence for continuing education are only a few of the ways employers can accommodate the lifestyles of older workers and retain the experience and know-how the company needs. Such programs must be designed carefully and implemented consistently to avoid resentment on the part of younger employees who may feel they are being disadvantaged.
10. Reward managers for retention – People do what is valued, observed, measured and rewarded. Consequently, managers and supervisors should receive an unambiguous message that retaining older workers who can contribute to achieving organizational goals is valued, will be included in performance evaluations and will be rewarded.

Motivating and managing the multi-generational workforce is looming as one of management’s biggest and most perplexing challenges. If ignored or poorly managed, the potential for conflict is not just theory. The news headlines reflect the power shifts on a broader scale, aided and abetted by agendas that define the generations. Most high level positions in corporations and in governments are held by Boomers and some Traditionals. Time, however, is on the side of Gen X and Gen Y. And both are becoming impatient.

Author's Bio: 

Richard J. Anthony, Sr. is executive vice president of GRAND Magazine ( He is author of Organizations, People & Effective Communication. He is also founder of The Entrepreneurs Network, a venue for aspiring and serial entrepreneurs and accredited angel investors. He is a member of the adjunct faculty at Villanova University. He recently led a project for the Delaware County Community Foundation to provide easy, multimedia access to county residents 50+ and their families to information about volunteerism, lifelong learning and employment. is a unique and innovative internet resource whose goal is to be the most trusted and reliable internet destination for people of the Baby Boomer Generation.

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