Leading different generations on the work floor

For the first time in history four different generations work together simultaneously within organizations due to the fact that the retirement age that has gone up. On our islands we are also confronted with this phenomenon and it comes with various challenges for our leaders.

The millennials (generation Y, born between 1980 and 1995) and the digital natives (generation Z, born after 1995) communicate and think differently compared to generation X and the Baby Boomers. The younger generations prefer using social media and digital technology as their main communication tools, whereas the older generations rather use personal communication, telephone or email. They also differ when it comes to their social interactions, their drives, expectations and their loyalty to stay with the same employer until their retirement age.  

Generation management

The costs involved with millennial turnover can lead up to twice the gross annual salary. This involves costs like e.g. replacement and training and development of the new employee. Therefore, organizations worldwide became interested in Generation management: where you actively train the leaders within your organization to lead the various generations more effectively, unleash the potential of the younger generations and retain them. 

Scientific research on Generation management has shown that lack of knowledge and understanding of the different generations leads to conflict, resulting in reduced productivity and loss of talent. In 2017, at thirty percent of the organizations in the USA, fifteen percent of their millennial employees had resigned. The majority of those millennials left the organization because they felt a mismatch with the organizational culture. Organizational culture is for the most part determined by leadership. This shows the relevance and importance of Generation management. 

We all recognize examples of millennials coming home after studying abroad. They start their career full of hope and ambition. Once they start working often times the millennials experience the older generations as “old whiners” and “not open to think out-of-the-box”. The older generations accuse the younger generations for “not reading” and for “being on their cell phone the entire time”. Having worked with multiple leaders in several domains on our islands the last decade, we have seen that Generation management isn’t an integral part of leadership development yet. 


Your mindset determines for the most part whether your leadership will be effective. This also applies to Generation management. Are you aware that you are likely to think out of your own (outdated) frame of reference? Are you open to the suggestions of the younger generations? Younger generations often times feel misunderstood and undervalued. This feeling is reinforced when they receive remarks such as: “We do things our way. If you do not like or appreciate the way we work here, please go back to the country where you studied”. Many island children that have studied abroad, have complained about this mindset.

As a consequence of these unfruitful yet common encounters, not only are we effectively wasting the growth mindset of young human capital on a micro level, on a macro level we -as a society – eminently undermine the opportunity for future leaders to learn from the experiences of current leaders.

Flexibility leadership styles

How flexible are you as a leader when it comes to applying different leadership styles so you can lead the different generations in your work force? Do you lead your employees based on authority or based on influence? Different needs and situations require a different style. 

Recommendations to lead different generations

1. Ensure connection

Connecting is key to effective Generation management. Make sure you are able to also connect with the younger generations on your work force. A leader who connects is aware of the power of interaction between employees, in which the leader and employees continue to influence each other. All generations appreciate connecting based for example on common values like collaboration and mutual respect. Being able to connect requires specific skills (e.g. emotional intelligence) for every leader. 

2. Identify the needs of different generations

You also need to gain insights in the needs of the younger generations. Once you have a clear vision of their needs, you can make optimal use of their talents as an added value to the older generations.

3. Stimulate innovation and creativity

You will create space for ideas and approaches of the younger generations through applying the concept of Generation management. This will lead to innovation and creativity. The older generations are crucial when it comes to knowledge and experience. You need all four generations and therefore, retaining all generations is key for the development of your organization. 

4. Lead by example

This concept is more relevant as ever. Are what you say and what you do aligned? The younger generations also listen to what you say, but they register especially what you do.

Connecting different generations will lead to increased productivity, happiness at work and retain younger talents within your organization. This will influence your bottom line positively. Nowadays, Generation management is a priority for many organizations worldwide. Have you prioritized this concept yet? 


Adkins, A. (2017). Millennials: the job-hopping generation. Gallup business journal.

Bontekoning, A. C. (2007). Dissertation Generaties in organisaties, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Robison, J. (2019). Why Millennials are job hopping. Gallup. 

Wilkie, D (2013). Survey: costs to replace millennials is triple the average. Society for Human Resource Management. Zak, P. (2017), The neuroscience of trust. Harvard Business Review.