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Home > Consultation and Training > Trieschman Center for Consultation & Training > Workforce Development Initiative


2001 Finding Better Ways Conference Presentation Recap

Managing the Multi -Generation Workforce

Tamara Ard
National Center for Professional Competence
Georgia Academy
Atlanta, GA

Mangers today are focused on the multi-cultural aspects of the work force, but they often fail to concentrate on the added dimension of multi-generation issues. These generational issues have significant impact on employees' general worldviews, as well as their views of the company and the management for which they work. In order to effectively meet the needs of today's work force, managers need to better understand what their employees think about their work environment and what will make work meaningful to today's workforce.

Just as with cultures and races, generations are different because of their varying life experiences. It is commonly understood that there are differences from one generation to the next; however, we spend little time addressing these in terms of employee issues. Worldviews are developed based on how we are raised and the historic events that occur while we are growing up. What we as a generation experience as our signature events define our history. It is common understanding from one generation to the next that the "new generation" does not have the same work values, beliefs or attitudes and that the new ones are not as "good" as the previous ones. Generational differences are not dealt with from a strength model. Instead, mangers try to manage the new work force using the same strategies that their mentors from the previous generation taught them.

In point of fact, no generation is without its strengths and challenges. Also, no generation is totally homogeneous in its values, attitudes or beliefs. This paper focuses on providing a description of the new generation, or Generation X, as it is portrayed in the literature and presents suggested strategies for managers to use to help improve the motivation and retention of these workers.

If one reviews the manner in which Generation Xers and Baby Boomers view each other, it is easy to see the potential for conflict.

Boomers Viewed Generation X Viewed
By Themselves By Generation X By Boomers By Themselves
Dedicated Workaholics Arrogant Self-reliant
Loyal Naïve Easily Distracted Flexible
Savvy Political Impatient Fast-acting
Decisive Authoritarian Needy Open to feedback
Realistic Hypocritical Disrespectful Fun-loving
Independent Distant Naïve Not political
Businesslike Boring Demanding Results-oriented

Today's workforce, born between 1965 and 1978, followed what is commonly called the baby-boomers generation, born between 1946 and 1964. There are about 45 million of these "new generation" workers as compared to about 77 million boomers. The decreasing birth rate that has occurred dropped (from 25.3/1000 to 14.6/1000) has resulted in the smallest work pool since the 1930s. About 45% of "Generation X" comes from families that have experienced divorce. They are also the first generation that has been raised predominately in day care (or became latchkey kids). They have grown up with MTV, video games and computers. They saw their grandparents and parents get laid off from companies from which they planned to retire. They are comfortable with rapid change and diversity.

As a result of these world experiences, people entering the work force today tend to be characterized in the following ways. They want and expect stimulation, communicate differently, are comfortable with technology, are self reliant/individualistic, need attention, question authority, want results, are not loyal to organizations, value friends and leisure time, and reject traditional work patterns. These dynamics in an environment of low unemployment make it even more challenging to retain employees who can get a new job at almost any time.

As managers we need to understand what motivates the younger workforce. We need to identify ways in which our work environment is not supportive of the younger worker and devise strategies for motivating and keeping these critical people in our organizations. Suggested strategies for working with younger employees includes:
  • Reasons: Provide the "whys" of your actions and requests.
  • Responsibility: Make them accountable for results by setting clear outcomes for the work and setting measurable objectives.
  • Relationships: Interact with them frequently about them personally, not in a manner that can be interpreted as micromanaging.
  • Recognition: Give frequent and specific feedback about the accomplishment of objectives, not the means they used to get to the objective (unless the outcome is not being achieved).


If managers are to be effective, they must meet the needs and challenges of the changing workforce. Meeting the needs of the workforce is beneficial for promoting harmonious and productive working relationships. Diversity is a fact of life and it comes in many different varieties. Generational diversity is one we need to be thoughtful and strategic about in our workforce.


Bradford, L. J., Raines, C., & Martin, J. L. (1992). Twenty-something: Managing and motivating today's new work force. Merrill-Alexander Publishing.

Hicks, R., & Hicks, K. Boomers, Xers and other strangers: Understanding the generational differences that divide us. Tyndol House Publishing.

Holtz, G. T. (1995). Welcome to the jungle: The why behind Generation X.

Howe, N., & Strauss, B. (1993). 1.3th Generation: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail? Vintage Books.

Kegan, R., & Lahey, L. L. (2001). Seven languages for transformation: How the way we talk can change the way we work.

Mahedy, W., & Bernardi, J. (1994). A generation alone: Xers making a place in the world. Inter-Varsity Press.

Raines, C. (1997). Beyond Generation X: A practical guide for managers. Crisp Publications.

Thau, R. D., & Heflin, J.S. (1997). Generations apart: Xers vs. boomers vs. the elderly. Prometheus Books.

Tulgan, B. (1997). The managers pocket guide to Generation X. HRD Press.

Tulgan, B. (2000). Managing Generation X: How to bring out the best in young talent. W. W. Norton and Company.

Tulgan, B. (2001). Winning the talent wars. W. W. Norton and Company.

Zemke, R., Raines, C., & Filipczak, B. (2000). Generations at work: Managing the clash of veterans, boomers, Xers, and Nexters in your workplace. American Management Association.

Contact Information

Tamara F. Ard, M.S.W.
Management Consultant
1468 Ridge Creek Way
Columbus, GA 31904
Phone: 706.221.4663

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