A middle-aged friend of mine had an interesting query when we caught up over beer & chips recently. The youngsters in my firm think they know it all, he said. My older colleagues also think they need no advice, he added. “Who is right?” was his exasperated question! Come to think of it, no wonder my office chef says that he can double up as a juggler, especially when he does the balancing act every day cooking lunch for 3 different generations! Curiosity aroused, I set off on a week-long expedition of research, thinking, conversations & observations! Below is the summary of my findings captured in the form of the top 7 tips for leading multi-generational teams:

generations in the workplace

  1. 9 to 5 vs. flexi-time: The older generation is hard-wired towards a structured routine. And the youngsters will have none of it! The best solution, as I found when I spoke to many leaders, is to clearly communicate “core working hours”, say, 11 to 4, so that people have their flexibility yet come together in the office at some stage during the day.
  2. Mentoring vs. reverse mentoring: Many companies have a formal system of mentors. How many companies actually have “reverse mentoring”? A system which values wisdom & skills equally across generations is best placed to attract talent from multiple generations.
  3. Flexible R&R: A simple but often under-rated component of employee reward programs, one of the most successful companies (whose attrition is low at either end of the age spectrum) actually leaves it to employees to define their rewards & recognition program, rather than “assume” generation-based goodies!
  4. Sign-up sheet: I observed this unique practice in a firm which is known for its employee centricity. Employees in the firm place advertisements for specific skills on the office intranet / notice board every day, asking for volunteers, regardless of age. One of their most successful projects, wherein the time to market for a product launch was cut down by 60%, was one wherein every team member was a volunteer, with an age range from 24 to 58!
  5. The real dilemma – do you treat them differently or do you treat them equally?: While the jury is still out on this one, the majority of the responses tended towards a mix of the two – equality in approach with an accent on the unique attributes of each category. For instance, a market research firm relied on tech-savvy youngsters for technical development of their product and on the shopping-savvy older generation for content development, while hiring for the firm using the equal employment opportunity principle!
  6. Inverse buddy system: This is the current practice in a financial services firm wherein the company shifted overnight from a slightly older employee being a “buddy” (go-to colleague for any help) to a new employee to a very young employee being a “buddy” to older employees. The young buddy picked up pearls of wisdom from the older generation while the older employees were able to quickly navigate their way through the digital labyrinth of e-forms, touch screens, paperless processes etc.!
  7. Intersection clubs: A unique way of creating bonds amongst employees outside office, the intersection club brings employees across generations together for common interests, such as theatre, jazz, travel et al. A start-up firm which launched this credits this outside-in approach for the development of amazing bonds at the workplace!


While these 7 tips offer insights based on pragmatic observations, the common ground for all generations remains the same – a workplace that is fun! As long as the goals are exciting, the culture is enticing, and the work is meaningful, inter-generational differences collapse in places where the fun never sets!

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