Managing a Multigenerational Workforce (and Incenting Correctly)

6 min read

For the first time in history it’s not uncommon for four different generations to be a part of the same workforce. Delayed retirements and the high cost of living have kept traditionalists and some baby boomers in roles they may have left in previous decades. This, combined with the influx of Gen-Yers to the workforce, has created the quintessential multigenerational workforce, made up of Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Gen Y. The wide range of age groups provides additional depth to the workforce. However, with additional dynamics come new challenges. Each of these groups has their own unique characteristics as employees of your organization. Because of this, it’s important to understand the differences between them to help you better manage multigenerational workforce, and how to incentivize these four groups appropriately.

The Multigenerational Workforce

Traditionalists Who they are: Born between 1920 and 1945, Traditionalists are typically non-risk takers who are interested in planning for the future. What they value: They value a team approach and are driven by formal, public recognition. In a 2010 survey of 300 employees conducted by AchieveGlobal, Traditionalists tended to respond “feeling good about what I do” when asked about the most important goal of their job. They aren’t in the habit of spending on themselves, so non-cash incentives speak loudly. How you should motivate: The Traditionalists within your organization might be motivated by seeing their names displayed on a public leaderboard, by being featured in the company newsletter, or by receiving plaques or other tangibles in public ceremonies. Baby Boomers Who they are: Born between 1946 and 1964, Baby Boomers matured during an age of economic prosperity and are often extremely competitive and willing to work hard for their rewards. What they value: They prefer long-term employment to short-term employment, and they also like to be formally recognized for their achievements. Otherwise known as the “Me” generation, Boomers appreciate job security and good pay, and want to see a direct link between accomplishments and rewards. How you should motivate: This generation enjoys being spoiled, so personalized pats on the back will go a long way towards making them feel appreciated. Gen-X Who they are: Born between 1965 and 1980, the Gen-X (or “Slacker”) generation defies this nickname by being entrepreneurial, technologically savvy, creative, and independent. What they value: Because Gen-Xers have worked through many difficult economies, they don’t believe in job security or expect to work for the same organization for an extended period of time, making them a difficult group to retain. How you should motivate: Gen-Xers value family over work, aren’t willing to work long hours, and are motivated by situations that improve work-life balance. They also want a workplace environment that is challenging, and they find meaning in learning new things. Gen-Y Who they are: Born after 1981, Gen-Yers, also known as “Millennials” or the “Trophy Generation,” are optimistic, highly confident, results-driven employees who value people over companies. What they value: They want it all—money, flexibility, work-life balance, recognition, praise, promotion—and they want it now (more on what motivates millennials in the workplace). Like the generations before them, they seek meaningful work, but they aren’t willing to climb the ladder to get it. They want their work to matter to them from day one. How you should motivate: It’s easy to dismiss Gen-Yers as spoiled brats, but companies that do so miss out on their optimism, technological savvy, and entrepreneurial approach to work. Recognizing your complex workforce demographics can make managing and incenting more doable and more impactful. Keep in mind what these groups have in common, and then come up with plans that reward collaborative behavior. In the same vein, acknowledge unique abilities and skills that each group brings to the table. When you figure out exactly what makes each group tick you can devise an incentive compensation strategy designed to attract, retain, and engage top performers from each of the four specific groups.