Bridging the Generation Gap: Effective People Management in the Age of Millennials and Gen Z

JTN Article

Bridging the Generation Gap: Effective People Management in the Age of Millennials and Gen Z

Building an organization as a conscious leader requires more than implementing strategies to grow the business's profit and scale over time. One of the more intentional steps a leader takes involves effective people management.

To successfully manage the people in a business, you must first understand the generations that play primary roles in the organization. These generations have lived through different experiences, some of which are significant shifts that shape how they typically think, communicate, and approach situations. So, productive people management of such diverse groups is impossible without understanding each generation individually.

Right now, there are five generations in the workspace. However, the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics projects that the Gen Zs population in the US civilian workforce will go up to 49.6%, and the millennials will rise from 80.9% to 81% by 2030. As a result, this article focuses on managing Gen Z and millennials as they're the rising population in the workforce.

Understanding Generational Diversity

As we mentioned earlier, diversity should be expected across generations due to the different trends, technological advancements, and historical moments they have each lived through. According to PurdueGlobal, the five generations in the workspace are Traditionalists (2%), Baby Boomers (25%), Generation X (33%), millennials (35%), and Generation Z (5%). I've detailed the characteristics of these different generations in the workforce and the affecting factors here to provide general insight into each one.

Traditionalists (Silents)

Born between 1925-1945, traditionalists are loyal, hardworking people who value:

  • More personal methods of communication like handwritten notes and physical meetings
  • Hierarchical advancement
  • Formal recognition in the workplace

This makes them most likely to retain one position throughout their career. Key events that shaped them include The Great Depression, World War II, and the introduction of radios and movies.

Baby Boomers

Baby boomers are people born between 1946-1964. The Vietnam War, Civil Rights Movement, and the Watergate Scandal shaped these individuals. Like traditionalists, they value loyalty but are not as picky with communication preferences. Their other values include:

  • Teamwork
  • Financial and job security
  • Compensation for hard work

Generation X

Those born between 1965-1980 experienced the AIDS epidemic, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the emergence of the internet. The internet presence of Gen X in their youth makes them more tech-savvy than previous generations. They are also known as individuals who:

  • Are more open-minded and receptive to diversity than previous generations
  • Value work-life balance
  • Are competitive and inclined to personal development


Also known as Generation Y, millennials were born between 1981 and 1996. Shaped by historical events like 9/11 and the accessibility of the internet to the public, millennials are open-minded and socially aware. Their familiarity with the internet makes their primary communication preference digital communication. They also:

  • Value work-life balance
  • Like measuring achievement
  • Understand their career goals and readily move on from an environment that doesn’t align with them

Generation Z

Those born between 1997-2012 are the youngest members of the workforce. They are deeply influenced by technological advancements, which have given rise to new trends and job opportunities. Technology is intuitive to this generation, and their exposure to overflowing information and diverse cultures makes them:

  • Most comfortable with diversity
  • Inclined to flexible and remote roles
  • Heavily dependent on technology

Millennials in the Workforce: Myths and Realities

A lot of information, misinformation and opinions are circulating about millennials' behavior in the workspace. While some are backed by evidence, others are based on speculations or misunderstandings of people who have worked with or encountered millennials in the workspace. Let’s examine five of the most common ones to determine whether they are myths or reality.

  • Myth: Millennials are job-hoppers
    While millennials and other younger generations of workers switch jobs more often than the silent generation and baby boomers, they are far from job hoppers. Many assume this faster movement across roles is due to a lack of loyalty and an inability to team play, but this is untrue. Millennials value measurable career growth, and when in an environment that does not foster this growth, they have to make choices that favor them. Unfortunately, some organizations do not prioritize people management and cannot retain their millennial talent.
  • Myth: Millennials are entitled
    This idea stems mostly from the fact that millennials believe in meritocracy, unlike the older generations that are more familiar with workplace hierarchy based on how long one has spent in a job. This makes them seem entitled to others. However, millennials put in the hard work to progress and want to be recognized for their achievements. So it's unfair to tag them as entitled if their request is well deserved.
  • Myth: Millennials are lazy
    Millennials grew up with technology and have experienced its efficiency. They believe in working smarter, not harder, but this does not make them lazy. By prioritizing efficiency, they can achieve more in a shorter time frame.
  • Myth: Millennials hate being told what to do
    This tech-savvy generation prefers objectivity over the typical expectation of obeying traditional authority. However, this is not disdain for management but is fueled by their value for knowledge and familiarity with sourcing information from the internet.

You can see how widely misunderstood millennials are from these myth bursts. On the surface, they seem shallow and unprofessional. However, to effectively manage millennials you must look past the speculations into what truly guides and informs their workplace choices.

Find their strengths and motivations and maximize them.

What are Millennials’ Unique Strengths and Motivations?

  1. They are independent workers: Their familiarity with sourcing information and passion for learning makes them good at working solo.
  2. Good teamwork: While they are independent workers, millennials also thrive in a team that challenges them to learn. They also value a social atmosphere, so they’re likely to build rapport with their team while brainstorming and sharing knowledge to solve problems.
  3. Open to mentorship: Millennials are known to create and maintain a rapport with supervisors and mentors for career development.
  4. Value feedback and recognition: They like to measure performance and make visible career progress. Constructive feedback and recognition of a well-done task is a morale boost and source of motivation for this generation.

To effectively manage millennials in your organization incorporate some or all of these strategies into your management playbook:

  • Provide professional development opportunities.
  • Have team managers that check on the growth of team members.
  • Integrate technologies that promote efficiency.
  • Improve internal communication efforts in the team, so they can express themselves.

Welcoming Gen Z: The Newcomers to the Professional World

It’s important to familiarize yourself with how to manage Generation Z, as they are the latest addition to the professional world. So, what are Gen Z's key traits and expectations in the workspace?

  1. Mobility-first habits: Gen Z has grown up in a technology-saturated environment, making them more dependent on the mobility offered by technology. This can be beneficial in the workspace as they utilize productivity apps that improve efficiency.
  2. Good at setting boundaries: Mental health awareness has made this generation good at setting clear work-life boundaries to protect their mental health.
  3. Appreciate diversity: The accessibility of social media and Gen Z's exposure to many minority rights movements have exposed them to a diverse group. Thus, they are more curious and open to diversity.
  4. Value stability: They grew up through several recessions, therefore, value financial and work stability. This influences their choices, such as switching roles every few years to get a pay raise.

Like millennials, Gen Z is largely misunderstood and perceived as work-shy. However, understanding their motivations and the events that shaped them provides a good starting point for creating strategies that meet their workplace needs.

Management strategies you can implement for Gen Z employees include:

  • Provide benefits that promote work-life balance.
  • Refrain from micromanaging.
  • Understand their needs and expectations from working with you so you can tailor their experience to fit.
  • Encourage efficiency. Adopt new technologies and workplace practices.

Fostering Cross-Generational Communication and Collaboration

Communication barriers are a real problem while managing various generations in your workplace. This might be because some generations are more acquainted with other forms of communication than those used today. Whatever the case, your role at this point is to find solutions to help bridge this barrier. Some steps you can take to bridge the communication gap are:

  • Leverage technology: The older generations are likely unfamiliar with more recent communication technology. You can have training days for employees to learn how to use vital technologies.
  • Alternate communication channels: As mentioned before, older generations prefer personal communication, while the younger ones are more familiar with technology and believe they are efficient. As part of your inclusivity initiative, encourage hybrid communication where you also use traditional methods of communication (like physical meetings and sticky notes) alongside digital (Microsoft Teams, Slack, etc.).
  • Host soft skill workshops: Sometimes, the communication gap could result from poor communication skills. You can organize workshops for everyone to learn how to communicate effectively and per the company culture.

Leadership Strategies for a Multi-Generational Team

Are you leading a multi-generational team and know their strengths and motivation but are still determining what strategies to implement to account for the needs of all the generations present? Here are four leadership strategies to implement in your multi-generational team.

1. Improve communication

Despite the different values and preferences of the generations in a workplace, setting up proper communication channels creates a medium for individuals to voice their challenges. As we know, understanding a problem is the first step in solving it.

2. Provide learning opportunities

You want to provide learning opportunities for every member of the team. This does not have to be the same across all generations. For example, you can offer older generations the opportunity to learn how to use software and technologies. In contrast, the younger generation learns mindfulness and how to be less digitally dependent.

3. Establish organizational culture

A culture of respect, teamwork, and acceptance in your team can enable generations to collaborate despite their differences. While they might have contrasting values, their willingness, and ability to accept this culture will limit workplace conflict across generations.

4. Leverage strengths

Each generation has unique strengths that they bring to your team. With the help of your human resource team or agency, you can structure your team in a way that leverages the strengths of each generation while minimizing their weaknesses through teamwork.

Building an Inclusive and Respectful Workplace Culture

The world has changed and will continue to do so. As a leader, you're responsible for facilitating these changes to benefit your business and the people who work in it. The challenges faced due to generational differences have come to light, and it is vital to establish a work culture in which no generation feels undervalued or disrespected.

Fostering a work culture that values generational diversity is a great way to maximize the talents that work for you. People from different age groups have different views, so your team can iterate ideas and bring problem-solving innovations to life. Moreover, such diversity allows a business to understand a customer base as diverse as its team.

Businesses that invest in creating an inclusive environment for their employees also experience higher talent retention. However, simply having your workplace culture plastered across your website, office space, or job board is insufficient to achieve such mindsets in your organization. You have to create and implement strategies and workplace policies that promote inclusivity and respect for all generations in your team. These would govern your hiring process and inform your choice when such policies are flouted.

Case Studies of Successful Multi-Generational Workplace Cultures

Do successful multi-generational workplaces that foster inclusive and respectful workplaces exist? They certainly do. Here are some case studies to peruse.

Mah Sing Group

Mah Sing Group, a Malaysia-based real estate development company, comprises four generations in their workforce, the dominant one being millennials (55%). Other generations in the company include Gen X (35%), Baby Boomers (5%), and Gen Z (5%). There is a lot to unpack for your team on how they bridged communication gaps across generations in their team.

Marriott International

Marriott International is an American multinational hospitality company that operates, franchises, and licenses lodging, with 120,000 employees as of 2021. Their story on how they thrive with a multi-generational team of Boomers to Gen Z is just the inspiration you might need.

The Way Forward

Your organization is just a few strategies away from having better collaboration across generations. Just as Mah Sing and Marriott created a healthy workplace for their wide range of employees, you can too.

The ball is in your court!

Bridging the Generation Gap: Effective People Management in the Age of Millennials and Gen Z
Kaitlyn Myers

Kaitlyn is a member of the training team at JTN Group in New York. She's a master facilitator with experience leading workshops & training programs for SMBs through to Enterprise organizations. Learn about JTN Group here.


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