How to Make a Multi-Generational Workforce An Opportunity for Success

by Julius Rhodes on June 11, 2020

Learn how to leverage the strengths and embrace the differences of your multi-generational workforce to drive greater success for your agency.

Today's workforce is comprised of the largest expanse of generations than any other point in time in history. As a result, the opportunity for misunderstandings and tensions in the workplace is at an all-time high. But to achieve your goals and continue to support the wellbeing of both employees and your agency, it's imperative to pay close attention to this generational divide.

Whether you’re currently working in the office or remotely, your workforce likely spans a large range of age groups. Taking stock of this will help your agency succeed no matter where you’re working from.

What Generations are in the Workforce?

A generation is considered, collectively, as all the people born around the same time. One generation typically spans a period of 20-30 years, but that timeframe not set in stone. During this time, we experience the birth of a child, growth into adulthood and the birth of their children.

There are two important things to note:

  1. Generational cutoff points aren’t an exact science and should be viewed as a tool for consideration.
  2. Generational identities are a state of mind formed by many incidents and effects. Ultimately, it is up to the individual to decide and identify which generation they fit into.

For the purpose of this article, consider that there are as many as five generations in the workplace as follows:

Generation Year Born
Traditionalists 1934–1945
Baby Boomers 1946–1964
Generation X 1965–1980
Millennials 1981–1996
Generation Z 1997–2012

Based on this chart, there is room for individuals to view the world from a series of events that impacted them. These may include:

  • World War II for Traditionalists
  • The assassination of John F. Kennedy for Baby Boomers
  • The Internet of Things for Generation X
  • The election of Barack Obama for Millennials
  • COVID-19 for Generation Z

Realizing this expanse, you should understand what each generation is looking for and how to best engage them. Let's look at some examples of how you can address this at your agency.


While the number of Traditionalists is dwindling, almost every agency still has employees who represent this generation. For them, the keys to successful engagement center around loyalty to and from the employer.

Generational Identifiers

Traditionalists were raised on the belief that they should be rewarded for their tenure. In addition, they value working within the established systems and view efficiency and dedication as hallmarks of a strong work ethic.

This generation prides themselves on being stable, thorough and detail-oriented – but not change driven. They are uncomfortable with conflict and disagreements, owing to their reliance on tenure and hierarchy. 

What They Need

To successfully communicate and engage Traditionalists, you need to show them loyalty and a commitment to utilizing established protocols to address issues. In addition, provide them with the security that your efforts to serve others are driven by meeting the customer's desire for high-quality services that address their essential needs.

Baby Boomers

While Baby Boomers held the distinction of being the most numerous members of our workforce, they have recently been overtaken by Millennials. However, their influence is still significant given the status they have attained in the workforce.

Generational Identifiers

Boomers are ardent about stability and respect in the workplace and they like to see their successes. They are workaholics and, as a result, they have difficulty balancing their lives. This generation is competitively obsessed and constantly in a comparison mode.

Furthermore, due to their upbringing, Boomers are not budget-minded and, for them, long hours are a hallmark of their commitment to their roles and responsibilities. They just want everyone to get along, while being sensitive to feedback. 

What They Need

When engaging with Boomers, keep in mind that they are not technology averse, but they do see problems with it. They prefer environments that help them reach a balanced life and they look for self-improvement as a means to advancement.

Boomers are also individualistic, so identifying customized approaches that address their issues is important to them. Appearing successful motivates this group of workers, meaning they seek the trappings and material possessions associated with success.

Generation X

Generation X is quickly advancing to the level of influence held by Boomers, especially as their seniority in the workforce grows. Every organization has Gen X'ers who play important roles in their success, so understanding this generation is imperative.

Generational Identifiers

Gen X’ers are very self-centric and bottom-line oriented. They're not impressed with authority, and they believe rewards should be based on productivity achieved, not hours worked. As a result, they want control of self, their time and future.

This generation is loyal to people they meet in the course of their careers and not necessarily to any specific employer. They also like technology and prefer informal work environments. 

What They Need

Connecting with Gen X’ers requires that you create authentic and sincere dialogue with them, as they pride themselves on spotting phoniness. Additionally, given their fondness for technology, you should provide up-to-date product and service options that they can utilize.

In addition, since they are not impressed by authority, ensure they can connect with their peers on a regular basis in your work environment.


Millennials are the most populous group of employees in our workforce today. If you sum up what this group wants in one word, it's “flexibility.

Generational Identifiers

Millennials' desire for flexibility encompasses many high-priority aspects of their work:

  • Their duties and where they're performed
  • Opportunities to learn and reinvent themselves
  • 24/7 access to information

Furthermore, this group grew up with technology, meaning they're highly skilled with technology systems and expect them in their work environments. 

They also have a strong desire to prove themselves and often crave praise for their work. Each generation compares themselves to the next, viewing their own as the standard and creating challenges and opportunities for others. But Millennials don't bind themselves to generational standards – instead, they seek different and more effective ways to level up in the workforce. 

What They Need

The best way to communicate and engage with Millennials is to provide them with customizable solutions and provide technology in the workplace as an essential tool. It's also important to ensure you recognize them as equals. Since this generation is not bound by prior conceptions of past generations, you need to show them how their views fit into the bigger picture.

Finally, Millennials are adamant about how the services they provide fit into a responsible society. The idea of being involved in something bigger than themselves is a useful method for garnering their commitment to a cause.

Generation Z

The most recent addition to the employment landscape, Generation Z, are often referred to as “the entrepreneurs.” These budding entrepreneurs pulled from the best of all the previous generations, making them great employees.

Generational Identifiers

Gen Z is especially independent and strongly desire financial success, which means they are highly motivated and willing to work hard to achieve their goals. As a result, they enjoy fast-paced working environments and want to get things done quickly. 

This generation is also highly visual, preferring to engage with images, graphics, and videos over long pieces of text. This helps them work better and more efficiently. And, like their Millennial predecessors, Gen Z is also adept with technology and wants workplace flexibility.

What They Need

In order to best connect and engage with Gen Z in the workplace, keep your workplace moving. This group wants things addressed in a speedy, expeditious manner. Make sure you give them access to technology in their work, and provide them with visuals rather than text (which means your internal communications should evolve to meet these needs). 

From these generational overviews, it's clear that there is a wide chasm that needs to be reconciled to the benefit of all workers. In doing so, you can successfully meet the needs of your employees and those you serve. 

Using Data to Shift Your Approach

Considering the characteristics and needs of the generations, how can you use these differences to create a basis of strength for your ongoing operations?

Evaluate Your Workforce Composition

First, gather data on the current composition of your workforce. This will allow you to understand the makeup of your employee population and how you may need to adjust the culture and environmental factors to best meet the needs of your team.

Agencies that don't take this first step often alienate a large segment of their team members. That's because they skew their actions to one group without understanding the impact on the entire operation.

Gather Input from Your Team

Next, you should examine what information you can solicit from your employees regarding how they want to be engaged. This answers an essential question that can't be overlooked: How are you communicating to your team?

You can never over-communicate, especially when it comes to putting your employees in a position where they feel safe and secure. Use different communication channels based upon the generations you're trying to reach. This also lends itself to creating processes to productively resolve workplace conflicts.

Leveraging & Backfilling Multi-Generational Work Processes 

Another area you should consider is how to best increase the amount of interaction between the employees across your agency so you can enhance team cohesion.

A large number of public sector workers are eligible for retirement, so you need to address the impending brain-drain. Connect members of diverse generations so your employees and your agency benefit from institutional knowledge sharing. This is an excellent opportunity to design and implement mentoring programs.

Rewarding Employees the Way They Want

As an agency, examine how you recognize and reward members of your team and how this aligns with the preferences of each generation. For instance, while Gen X’ers may want more compensation, Millennials may desire greater flexibility in their schedule.

In this whole process, it's vital that your processes don't overtly benefit one group at the expense of another. While you can’t be all things to everyone at the same time, you can take a balanced approach to addressing generational employee needs.

The Benefits of a Balanced Workplace for Multiple Generations

Addressing your generational concerns in a holistic manner shows many benefits that impact the agency as a whole.

1. Stepping out of your comfort zone drives growth.

Encompassing a greater breadth and depth of our team members requires us to behave – and advance – in a manner significantly different than we did in the past.

2. A multi-generational workforce fosters a need for collaboration.

This increases your ability to innovate and address issues with a fresh perspective that combines variant ideologies.

3. Opportunities to learn improve employee growth and performance.

The more opportunities that you provide for your workforce to engage with others who have different skill sets, the more challenged they are. The more challenged your employees are, the more they grow and engage in their work. This leads to higher levels of productivity – and, in the end, represents a win for the agency, the individual, and those you serve.


Learn more about how your agency can support better performance and greater success by improving employee engagement and productivity towards their goals and the organization's.

Julius Rhodes

Formerly the Director of HR for Cook County in Illinois and an officer of the greater Chicago Chapter of IPMA, Julius E. Rhodes has spoken at past IPMA-HR conferences and will be keynoting the upcoming IPMA Southern Region Conference in Charleston, S.C. He is also the Founder and Principal of the mpr group, a broad-based, full-service Human Resources and Management Professional Services Firm, which he has operated continuously for 25 years. He can be reached at or 773-548-8037. You can follow him on Twitter @jerhodes42.

The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of NEOGOV.

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