Today's workplaces can often have four or even five generations of staff working side by side. To attract and retain good staff, and maintain productivity, understanding generational differences is essential.

By the year 2020, Australia's workforce will be made up mainly of Generations X and Y. In the next four years, leadership will begin to transition from the Baby Boomers to Generation X, with Generation Y pushing for a position on the leadership ladder. Entering the workforce is Generation Z.

It is no longer enough for organisations to align human resource management practices and employment relations to the business strategy. Organisations must consider the needs of their multi-generational workforce, including individual staff members' values and style of working.

1. Recruitment and selection

Regardless of generational issues, always thoroughly assess your recruitment need (job description and advertisement). During the interview, draw out generational work preferences and styles. While people from all generations can be flexible and adaptable, knowing a particular employee’s preferences and behaviours will help you understand what motivates them.

Avoid any risk of discrimination, such as age discrimination, by ensuring a fair recruitment process. For example, it may be considered unfair to assess a Generation X applicant with a gamification assessment tool, knowing that a Generation X applicant is less likely to have been exposed to this type of assessment than a Generation Y applicant.

2. Human resource development

Training and development processes that reflect generational learning preferences will provide a better return on your investment; for example, Baby Boomers and Generation X generally prefer to communicate face to face.

Providing training that is delivered by webinar or through e-learning may result in a lack of engagement in the training by Baby Boomers. This will result in a low return on your investment. Although Baby Boomers may be competent using the technology, their preference is generally for a non-technical delivery. Generations Y and Z, on the other hand, are likely to view the technological delivery of a webinar or e-learning as valuable and convenient.

3. Managing employee performance 

How organisations communicate information across the generations will impact on employee performance. Using different forms of communication, such as face-to-face meetings and training sessions, webinar and email, will allow a multi-generational workforce to maximise their performance.

If employees clearly understand the job requirements, what behaviours they need to demonstrate at work, and what reward and recognition they can expect, organisations will see a lower level of poor performance, and a higher level of high performance.

4. Recognition and reward

Before you consider recognition and reward programs for your employees, understand what reward means for different generations. Actively seek suggestions from your employee through cultural and engagement surveys as well as individual and group discussions.

Identify and agree what your employer-employee value proposition is (‘What’s in it for you? What’s in it for us?’). Investing time to understand generational needs, and your employee value proposition, will result in employee engagement of the entire workforce, and successful long-term return on investment.

Although individuals from each generation can be flexible and adapt, distinct generational characteristics can have a significant impact on human resources management.

A contemporary approach that takes into account employee needs across all generations is essential for effective human resource management and employee relationship. Organisations that understand generational characteristics – organisations that work with the generational differences rather than against them – will be the leading enterprises. 

Born 1922–1945
View of work: an expectationof society; a necessity
Leadership style: directive, can be commanding and controlling, individual interactive
Communication: prefers formal communication such as letters, telephone and face to face
Motivated by: respect for experience, satisfaction in a job well done
Feedback: not necessary (no news is good news)
Work-life balance: work and family life are completely separate

Baby Boomers
Born 1946–1964
View of work: exciting and adventurous
Leadership style: consensual and collegial, embracing the teamwork player
Communication: prefers face to face
Motivated by: being valued and needed, recognition and healthy pay package
Feedback: of little importance
Work-life balance: work to support their chosen lifestyle

Generation X
Born 1965–1980
View of work: a challenge and a contract
Leadership style: challenges, asks questions, views everyone equally; independent, entrepreneurial, interactive
Communication: prefers to-the-point and immediate communication of any kind; does not like to be kept waiting
Motivated by: freedom, doing things their way
Feedback: feedback important; has no problem in asking for it
Work-life balance: flexibility and balance is key

Generation Y
Born 1981–1995
View of work: a means to an end as well as fulfilment
Leadership style: personal and strategic; participative, interactive style
Communication: prefers email and voicemail
Motivated by: working with talented and creative people; doing meaningful work
Feedback: expected as and when they require it; delivered instantly upon request
Work-life balance: extremely important

Generation Z
Born 1996–2009
View of work: may be a struggle for many
Leadership style: likely to be innovative, interactive, visual and self-directed
Communication: social media likely to be a strong form of communication
Motivation: likely to be motivated by individuality and variety of work with flexibility
Feedback: likely to need frequent and positive feedback
Work-life balance: likely to value flexibility with their family of origin as a secure base


For help with human resources in your organisation, contact Bentleys today.
Heidi Mayhew-Sanders
Human Resources
P: +61 7 3222 9777


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