Managing the Generational Collision:

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Recruitment, Retention and Progression in the Five-Generation workforce.

Increasingly, five generations of people will be found working alongside each other in the workplaces of Europe. That presents real challenges for recruitment, retention and career progression, because generational identities affect expectations and behaviours.

Indeed, with the Gen-Y generation less likely than any before it to conform and follow in the steps of predecessors, the structure of our working environments seem destined for dramatic change. This will only be reinforced as Gen-Z (the Millennials) come into your workforce over the next two years. Most obviously, wide variations in communication styles, attitudes and approaches will affect working relationships, client relationships and the success of any people-centric organisation. So how best to manage this?

To prevail in the war for new talent, companies must recognise that generational identities influence expectations, and expectations affect the success of recruitment, retention and progression. Those identities also align with certain behaviours, which affect productivity and performance.

Clearly, an organisation’s response to the five-generation workforce will play a significant role in its bottom line. Before formulating that response a company needs to ask: Who are the employees of today?

The Employees of Today

The majority of people working today generally range from those who joined the workforce in the 1960s right up to the present. They are a product of the time periods in which they were raised. The following characterisations are generalisations and, as such, cannot be expected to hold true for every individual in a particular age range – but they do hold true as the value set and behaviours of four broad groupings.

  • Traditionalist. These people are 66 or older. When they entered the workplace for the first time, organisations had a clear chain of command, and they are comfortable with a seniority-based management style. Change is necessary only when something is wrong. Loyalty, sacrifice, and dedication drive their actions. Key characteristics include stability, compliant, fiscal frugality, risk aversion and a focus on the long-term. Traditionalists want “what is best for the company.”
  • Baby Boomer. Workers in this group are 47 to 65 years old. When entering the world of work they were driven by competition; success meant rising to the top. They are career-focused, collaborative and savvy about workplace politics. They have witnessed advances by women and people of different ethnicity. They value the idea of work-life balance and are positioned to make it work for them. They are motivated by highly visible roles, professional recognition, personal growth, and gratification. Baby Boomers want “what is best for everyone.”
  • Generation X. The generation of 31 to 46 year olds is now ascending toward executive leadership, so it is critical that organisations determine how to retain, motivate and advance these people. It is a tough assignment. Gen-Xers value autonomy, are sceptical of authority, loyal to their careers, and more likely than other generations to leave for better opportunities. Their entrepreneurial drive is focused on their current and future marketability. They value balance and versatility and are technologically savvy. Gen X wants “what is best for me.”
  • Generation Y. People in this group are 16 to 30 years old. They are skilled multitaskers, confident, team oriented and eager to please. Networking for them looks nothing like that of generations past — a fact rife with implications for organisational development. Their sense of time is similarly unique, given the immediacy of information today. Like many Gen Xers, they attended Universities/Colleges where women were a majority, and they expect diversity in their workplace. And, similar to Boomers, Gen Y wants “what is best for everyone.”
  • Generation Z. The ‘Millennials’ are the younger brothers and sisters of Gen-Y. They share many of the characteristics of their older siblings – and will begin joining the workforce in the next two years. They’re defined and shaped by the educational methods adopted by many countries since 2000 (i.e. higher interactivity, more group learning and regular structured feedback), the market-economy cultural values they have grown up with – and the seismic events and global uncertainties that have been under the media microscope since they were able to digest current affairs. They’re more networked and instinctively inclusive than previous generations, they’re socially aware and good corporate citizens – but even more than Gen-Y, they want (and demand) is continual self-validation and feedback, driven by (possibly unrealistic) career expectations that are higher than any other generation that’s gone before.

Values, Expectations and Behaviours

Many current European workplaces, based largely on traditionalist and baby boomer values and motivations, are familiar to us all. Similarly, Gen X workers have been probed and analysed extensively. As such, this paper will mainly focus on getting a better understanding of Gen Y (and therefore their younger siblings, Gen Z), starting with their values, expectations and behaviours.

  •  High sense of equity and fair play.
  •  Sense of civic responsibility; desire to give back and lead environmentally friendly lives.
  •  Interest in doing what is best for everyone.
  •  Expectation of change; support for innovation and creativity.
  •  Conventional values; desire to please.
  • Up-to-date technological gear; systems that synchronise with personal gadgets.
  • Diversity; a workplace that values differences.
  • A company leadership with high expectations.
  • Immediate access to information and services.
  • A workplace where individual opinions are sought and valued.
  • Aim to please.
  • Eagerly accept challenges.
  • Oriented toward teamwork.
  • Exhibit confidence and optimism.
  • Have high (and sometimes unrealistic) expectations of what they can achieve.

Getting and Keeping a Growing Generation Y

So what should organisations focus on to recruit, retain and develop Gen Y?

To recruit Gen Y:

  • Include people from all generations in the hiring process – people who can discuss and understand the approach that is needed to attract the best applicant pool.
    Websites and recruitment brochures should de-emphasise or even forgo the history and tradition, and focus instead on innovation and areas of importance to Gen Y, such as mentoring, training and development opportunities; lifestyle; and work-life balance benefits (e.g., flexible work schedules).
  • Gen Y are accustomed to ‘involved’ parents and will likely seek their opinions when deciding on employment. A company that demonstrates care and concern for the well-being of employees — wellness programmes, discount vouchers, rewards for long-term service, ongoing opportunities — may invoke the support of parents.
  • Be prepared to answer questions from a new generation. Those interviewing should be well versed on the company’s training and professional development programmes, diversity initiatives, affinity groups, maternity/paternity leave policies, flexible and part-time schedule policies, and the like.
  • Consider revising the orientation process to provide more guidance in navigating your organisation’s environment and ‘politics’. Gen Ys will strive to conform to what they see, but they may struggle in relating to the values, expectations and behaviours they encounter.
  • Provide clear guidance as to how others may interpret their work styles, attitudes, interactions with authority, etc. Communicate expectations regarding schedules, office etiquette, and the like.
  • Gen Ys are most comfortable with informal communication in e-mails, text messages, etc. Explain expectations regarding professionalism, confidentiality and privacy in the age of social media.
  • Make clear the many ways in which informal feedback is provided. Ensure that the Gen Ys know that immediate feedback, or lack of feedback, does not mean disapproval or approval.
  • Encourage senior managers to provide feedback specific to matters/assignments throughout the year.
  • Where possible, enable Gen Y to meet a variety of potential mentors and then allow them to select the one to whom they relate best, rather than randomly assigning mentors.
  • Support the decision of those who choose more flexibility in their careers.
  • Gen Ys are said to be loyal to each other and each other’s experiences, but they also show loyalty to the institution. Contrast this with Gen Xers, who tend to be more loyal to their immediate supervisors. The “what’s in it for me” generation will not martyr themselves for the company, and may not respond to a firm message of “just hang on” or “stick with us through the bad times.”
More on Feedback
  • Traditionalists and Baby Boomers. Gen Ys crave communication, transparency, and ongoing feedback about performance and expectations.
  • Ensure that Gen Y receive specific examples of how to improve, the support they will receive in improving, and how improvement will be measured.
  • Look for ways to harness technology to deliver personalised feedback in real time and on demand.
  • Gen Ys may not be accustomed to negative feedback. Receiving less than the top grade without explanation could cause motivation and engagement levels to drop quickly.
  • Gen Ys share performance and evaluation information more freely and openly than other generations. They expect objectivity, fairness and equality in evaluations.
Training and Development
  • Traditional business development and customer relationship building techniques may not work. Revamped training may be required in areas such as customer relationships. For example, could social networking be used to connect and build relationships?
  • Design career paths that provide challenging work and increased visibility for new hires. This will indicate a commitment to individual growth and development.
  • Define competencies that will show growth and development. Many companies have moved to a competency-based model, which will appeal to Gen Ys, as long as they get training related to the competencies.
  • Gen Y is accustomed to “edutainment.” Devise lively, creative forms of training that incorporate technology and the opportunity to collaborate with their peers.
  • Gen Ys will appreciate, in addition to salaries, benefits, and bonuses, nonfinancial rewards such as flexible work schedules, gym memberships, and cost saving/time saving services.
  • Acknowledgment, informal or formal, for professional and civic accomplishments is a form of reward.
  • A collegial work environment, with social activities, community service, affinity groups, wellness programmes, and child and family care, are all rewards.


In conclusion, organisations that resist changing in the face of the five-generation landscape may find themselves losing out on talent. Companies need to position work as challenging and fulfilling – and, of course, pay competitively. But they also must allow for autonomy (Traditionalist and Gen X) and collaboration (Boomer, Gen Y and Gen Z); celebrate achievement (Boomer, Gen Y and Gen Z), but not too much (Traditionalist); ensure feedback, with the proper mix of positives and negatives (Gens X, Y and Z); offer non-tangible rewards (Gens X, Y and Z); and communicate often (Gens X, Y and Z).

That is the five-generation challenge. Find out more about our Employee Segmentation methodology that will show you how YOUR five different Generations need to be attracted, interviewed, inducted, trained, communicated with on a day-to-day basis – and  developed as an employee.

Client Services Director @ Resource Central Ltd
As part of our team I help companies develop, build, implement and manage people engagement and experiences that deliver ‘ real value’ across the Talent and HR business needs of Talent Attraction, Talent Acquisition, Talent Engagement, Talent Community Retention and Employer Value.

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Top Image Link edited from: Serving the Next Generation Workforce
Client Services Director @ Resource Central Ltd
As part of our team I help companies develop, build, implement and manage people engagement and experiences that deliver ‘ real value’ across the Talent and HR business needs of Talent Attraction, Talent Acquisition, Talent Engagement, Talent Community Retention and Employer Value.