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Topic: Leadership

5 Best Practices for Managing Multigenerational Workforces

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Millennials. Gen X. Baby Boomers. Everyone is talking about the generational changes happening in our workforce today. Top of mind: how to effectively manage and engage Millennials when they appear so different than the rest of the working population. But here’s the surprising news. When it comes to engagement, motivation, recognition, and great work, the generations are surprisingly similar.

In fact, extensive global research over the past five years shows when you look at the effect of recognition on The generations, we are all the same.
We all want feedback, to be noticed, and to have our work and careers valued. We want to know we make a di­fference. And, we want to be appreciated and recognised for our eff­orts—big and small. What about engagement? A 2013 global research study by the cicero group found that all employees, regardless of age, are more Engaged when they are recognised; they feel more driven, more connected to the company, and have better work relationships.

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The study also found that no matter what the employee’s age, celebrating careers over time increases their desire and commitment to stay with their company.

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No matter what generations your workforce is made up of, it’s clear recognition is critical. You do, however, want to keep a few generational nuances in mind to ensure your recognition is effective, creating an even more engaging work environment.

Best Practice Number 1:
Deepen engagement by holding younger employees accountable and building trust for older workers.

Global research from Towers Watson shows that regardless of age, the #1 driver of employee engagement is a “sense of opportunity for development in the organisation and that the company cares about me.”

However, the #2 driver of engagement for younger workers is a sense that employees are held accountable for their work (and leaders deal with poor performers). Younger workers want to know their work will get noticed and see how it makes a di­fference for the company and their careers.

For older workers, a feeling of trust for leaders and respect by leaders drives their engagement. They need to feel their company trusts them to go out and perform, and they need to trust that their managers support their actions.


Drivers of Engagment

Ages 25-44


Opportunity & well-being




Pride in symbol

Ages 45-64


Opportunity & well-being




Pride in symbol

When you call out great work as you see it, it shows employees they’re on the right track and models behaviors for poor performers. Recognition has also been proven to build trust as it deepens employees’ relationship with leaders.

Best Practice Number 2:
Motivate younger employees with promotions and formal recognition for their work. Motivate older employees with variety and autonomy.

Across the board, employees are motivated by exciting, challenging work. But once that need is met, you want to look at the nuances for each generation.

Younger employees want their work to get noticed by their peers, leaders, and the organisation overall. Recognition and promotions also help younger employees feel a sense of opportunity and wellbeing. Older employees want to feel secure in the organisation they are working for. Variety and autonomy provides a way for them to feel empowered to make a di­fference.


Top Work Motivators

Ages 25-44

1. Doing exciting/challenging work

2. Working with a successful organisation with a strong future

3. Having regular promotions up a defined career ladder

4. Receiving formal recognition from my company for my work efforts

Ages 45-64

1. Doing exciting/challenging work

2. Doing work with a lot of variety

3. Working primarily on my own

4. Working with a successful organisation with a strong future

Performance recognition highlights the great work employees are doing across the organisation. Career celebrations show employees how they fit and belong and contribute to the organisation’s success.

Best Practice Number 3:
To ensure recognition is effective, make sure it’s meaningful for newer employees and based on performance for older employees.

The number one driver of effective recognition: recognition of what matters most to your organisation. Take that one step further with specific generational nuances.

Newer employees want recognition that’s given to them to come across as genuine and personal. Older employees need their recognition to be specific, based on performance, and made clear why they are receiving it.


Drivers of Effective Recognition

Ages 25-44

1. Recognise what matters most

2. Personal and sincere

3. Shows company cares

Ages 45-64

1. Recognise what matters most

2. Performance-based

3. Personal and sincere

Ensure all recognition is timely, specific, and given in a meaningful way. It should always be clearly aligned to what’s important to your organisation.

Best Practice Number 4:
Highlight unique ways younger employees contribute, and make sure recognition is given fairly for older employees.

All employees want to be recognised and appreciated in a variety of ways.

Younger employees want to be uniquely valued, preferring more spontaneous recognition that is not expected. Regular intervals of recognition that are given to “check a box” or “because it’s my turn” are not meaningful. Any sort of recognition moment must be genuine and sincere—there is a strong sensitivity among younger employees to feeling like it’s forced or required. The older generation is less concerned with uniqueness, and more concerned with recognition that is fair, based on performance, and earned. Because they typically have higher positions and greater tenure, their expectations of awards are also higher.

Provide numerous opportunities for recognition—whether it’s day-to-day or formal, career celebrations, monetary or non-monetary.

Best Practice Number 5:
When planning career celebrations keep in mind what would be most meaningful for each individual employee.

Younger and older workers want to feel celebrated for their accomplishments over time—whether it’s 1, 3, 5 years or more.

The key is looking at the specific nuances for each generation.


Meaningful Celebrations

Younger employees report wanting:

1. A more casual and party-like environment and more opportunities to socialise

2. To get away from the work location

3. Higher management participation, but they're sensitive to presentations that are generic and not personalised

Older employees are more comfortable with:

1. A more corporate/formal presentation

2. Family involvement

3. Higher management participation

Take the time to plan an appropriate career celebration that ensures it is a highly personalised, meaningful event.


Don’t feel overwhelmed or anxious about managing multiple generations, as you’ll find there are more similarities than differences. By recognising and appreciating employees, you can engage, motivate, and inspire great work—no matter what age.

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