How to Motivate the Multigenerational Workforce

Almost every executive I talk to is worried about some aspect of getting the generations to play nicely together. This is often just code for “How do we keep our younger employees happy and productive?”

For example, the president of one chemical company offered a standard comment, saying, “Our young people are truly different. They’re well educated, and they don’t expect to stay. They’re not hung up on titles, and they want to work on their own terms. We’ve got guys who come in at 6:00 am but leave by 2:00 pm.”

This often creates significant tension between younger and more experienced workers. But one tactic I see my best clients using is looking for success stories where employees of different generations are collaborating effectively. We call this "finding the bright spots." For example, one manufacturing executive pointed to a new hire in the production area whose attention to detail wasn’t up to quality standards. Older co-workers took him aside and showed how he was bringing the department’s averages down and what he had to do differently.

This intervention and explanation had a more positive impact than if it were delivered by management. And, it demonstrated the value of engaging veteran workers with the responsibility for the success of new hires. Can you find examples in your company where different generations are collaborating effectively? What lessons were learned and what conclusions can you draw from this story? Are there practices you can share with others struggling to manage a multigenerational workforce?