For the first time in history, five generations are working side by side in offices around the world. Therefore how to manage an age diverse team should be on every manager’s mind. Personas characterizing each generation abound, but for purposes of this blog, we’ll stick to the Society of Human Resource Management’s1 (SHRM) definitions:

  • The Silent Generation (ages 71-89)
  • Baby Boomers (ages 54-70)
  • Generation X (ages 34-53)
  • Generation Y, aka Millennials (ages 21-33)
  • Generation Z (under 20)

Millennials make up the largest chunk of the U.S. workforce (37%) followed by Gen X (35%) and Baby Boomers (27%). The Silent Generation makes up just 1% and Gen Z is also a small cohort (1%-2%).

There are many advantages to having an age-diverse workforce. Age-diverse, inclusive teams (with age being one factor contributing to diversity) may perform better. Forbes2 shares data from Cloverpop3 demonstrating:

  • Inclusive teams make better business decisions up to 87% of the time.
  • Teams that follow an inclusive process make decisions twice as fast with half the meetings.
  • Decisions made and executed by diverse teams delivered 60% better results.

But age does not always register as a factor of diversity for business leaders. According to SHRM4, “while 64% of CEOs reported having diversity and inclusion initiatives in place, a mere 8% said they included age as part of their efforts," said Jim Link, chief human resources officer at Randstad, citing PwC research.

So if it seems to you like age-diverse workforces happen without much thought behind how they will work, you may be right.

Being a good manager is not contingent on age. But humility can be a useful trait to have, especially when managing people who are older than you.

And if you are managing someone from another generation, you may have to work extra hard to understand their work styles and attitudes.

Millennials are perhaps the generation most discussed in management literature. The assumption is almost universal that Baby Boomers5 (who came of age in the 50’s when optimism and promise were at their high point and sustained effort translated into success) are managing today’s Millennials, but the numbers don’t bear that out. There are many more Millennials in the workforce today than Boomers. The increasingly likely scenario is that Millennials are managing Boomers or Gen X’ers.

Based on their sheer numbers, they are the pipeline of talent for assuming leadership positions in finance. Robert Half International6 has shared tips on preparing them for these roles. One thing they make clear is Millennials’ paths will not be traditional so creating a customized career path and offering them a mentoring program is key. Paul McDonald, Robert Half senior executive director, advises that everyone who wants to be a leader needs a mentor. The focus of these programs should include management training, including how to engage people with a diverse set of backgrounds, personalities, work styles, and ages. 

Managing someone who is older than you can be an especially difficult problem a Millennial may face. Inc.7 provides useful tips for the Millennial that finds him or herself in the position of managing someone much older than themselves. These include:

  • Don’t expect overnighters

  • Ask their advice

  • Listen to their stories

  • Let them believe they’re still rebels

  • Don’t get cocky about technology

Tweet This

Being a good manager is not contingent on age. But humility can be a useful trait to have, especially when managing people who are older than you.

Being a good manager is not contingent on age. But humility can be a useful trait to have, especially when managing people who are older than you.

And for the Boomer or Gen X’er who finds themselves managing the Millennial, understanding their work styles, what motivates them, and what values are important to them is advised. Strategic Finance’s recent article by Lisa Jasper, “Building An Adaptive Leadership Style” provides best practices in managing each discrete generation.

Robert Half International8 recently surveyed finance leaders about where they see the greatest generational differences:

  • Communication skills (30 percent)

  • The ability to adapt to change (26 percent)

  • Technical abilities (23 percent)

Their advice to managers, “don’t overthink it” and make differences a positive. For instance, communicate to each generation in ways that make them feel most comfortable.

  • Baby boomers tend to be more reserved.

  • Gen Xers favor a control-and-command style.

  • Gen Yers prefer a more collaborative approach to communication.

  • Generation Z prizes in-person interactions.

So it may be OK to send a project plan to a Baby Boomer via email, but you may want to set aside some time for an in-person meeting to go over it with a Gen Y or Gen Zer. A Gen Xer may want you, as the manager, to assign roles and responsibilities so there is clear direction for proceeding and monitoring performance.

No matter the generation, solid fundamental management skills can go a long way in allaying problems. Harvard Business Review (HBR) writes a lot about what makes a good manager. One of their seminal articles in management literature is, “You Can’t Be a Great Manager If You’re Not a Good Coach.”9 HBR holds this principle as the key: “The most powerfully motivating condition people experience at work is making progress at something that is personally meaningful.”

This is something every generation shares.


1 “5 Generations + 7 Values = Endless Opportunities,” Society for Human Resource Management, June 20, 2017

2 “New Research: Diversity + Inclusion = Better Decision Making At Work,” Forbes, September 21, 2017

3 “Hacking Diversity with Inclusive Decision Making,” Cloverpop, accessed report from website March 2018

4 “Four Myths About The Multigenerational Workplace,” Society for Human Resource Management, October 3, 2017

5 “5 Generations in the Workplace (and Why We Need Them All),” Entrepreneur, February 10, 2017

6 “Preparing Millennials for Leadership Roles in Finance: 4 Tips,” Robert Half International, January 2, 2017

7 “5 Tips for Managing Baby Boomers,” Inc., April 26, 2017

8 “The Key to Managing a Multi-Generational Team: Don’t Overthink It,” Robert Half International, July 3, 2017

9 “You Can’t Be a Great Manager If You’re Not a Good Coach,” Harvard Business Review, July 17, 2014

About the Authors