Home » Articles » Training Managers to Lead Four Generations: Leadership Fad or the New Essential?

Training Managers to Lead Four Generations: Leadership Fad or the New Essential?

by Diane Thielfoldt & Devon Scheef

By now, anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock knows that there are four generations of employees in the workforce (Millennials 1977-1998; Gen Xers 1965-1976; Baby Boomers 1946-1964 and Silent Generation 1933-1945). As a matter of fact, a rapidly growing number of organizations provide overviews, lunch ‘n’ learns, presentations, written material and/or online resources to raise management’s awareness of the four generations.

These educational efforts do a decent job of raising awareness, but that’s often as far as it goes. It’s not far enough. Why? Because every manager needs substantive skills in multi-generational leadership, not just awareness of the generations, to recruit, hire, onboard, coach, engage, retain, and foster knowledge sharing across all four generational segments of the workforce.

For example, when a new hire comes on board, the manager helps the new hire find peer groups and understand expectations. This sounds pretty cut and dry until you take into account the new hire. A Millennial new hire, for instance, will expect the manager to provide him with a buddy and social network and to fill him in on the “unwritten rules.” A Baby Boomer new hire, on the other hand, will want her manager to describe where her experience fits and to provide introductions to senior leaders and build her credibility.

Every level of manager, from newly promoted managers to first-line, middle, and tenured managers, is impacted by the challenge of the multi-generational workforce. Here’s how:

  • Recruiting & Hiring – Company recruiters can find candidates, but people go to work for a manager. Managers must adjust their interviewing approach when recruiting new talent. “By 2012, the US workforce will be composed of 3% Silent Generation, 27% Boomers, 33% Gen Xers and 37% Millennials.” U.S. Census Bureau data
  • Onboarding – New employees quickly make up their minds about their new managers, teams and companies. Managers must help new hires find their way into the culture as well as the work. “Most employees (90%) make the decision to stay with a company within the first 6 months.” Bersin & Associates
  • Job Mastery – Managers are expected to be on-the-job coaches and mentors, not just ‘the boss.’ Managers must know how to enrich entry level assignments, and keep work fresh for experienced team members. “Career growth and development is one of the top five retention factors for over 80% of the workforce.” The Learning Café
  • Retention & Engagement – People join companies but leave “bad” bosses. And they don’t have to walk out the door to quit – they can mentally quit and come to work every day. Managers need to be savvy about the engagement drivers for each team member, and know how to make the department a great place to work. “Disengaged workers cost the economy $300 billion or more a year. Over 50% of the workforce reports being disengaged.” Gallup
  • Knowledge Sharing – Managers are the first line of defense in guarding precious organizational know-how. Managers must assess which expertise and skills are critical for the future, which are at risk, and ensure continuity. “43% of the 141 million US civilian labor force will be eligible to retire in the next decade.” Wall St. Journal based on US Census Bureau data

As you can see, multi-generational leadership is not just a fad, it is the new essential. Providing managers with focused skill-building and tools to successfully lead across the generations is the new core, critical element for forward-thinking leadership development curriculums.

How well do managers in your organization manage the mix?