Managing More Experienced Employees

Image: Managing More Experienced Employees

Leadership Skills for Gen X & Gen Y

For the first time in working history, younger generations are managing older, more experienced employees. In fact, it is becoming increasingly common for Gen Xers and Gen Ys to be managing employees from the Baby Boomer and Traditionalist generations. More and more Baby Boomers are delaying retirement because they are living longer, are healthier, are enjoying working and – in many cases – can’t afford to retire. In addition, many healthy Traditionalists have decided to re-enter the workforce, even if only on a part-time basis.

It used to be the case that managers were older than their employees, because they had more knowledge and experience. Today, the percentage of post-secondary graduates is higher. Thus, these employees enter into the workplace with significant competencies and knowledge which often allows them to leap frog over the older generations and into leadership positions earlier in their careers.

The Dynamics of Younger Leaders Managing More Experienced Employees

While Baby Boomers and Traditionalists are often confused about how to manage Gen X and Gen Y employees, younger leaders are not always confident that they can manage older generations effectively either. The root cause is that, while the four generations may use the same language in the workplace, they actually define words and concepts differently. These differing definitions and behaviours are where confusion, missteps and misunderstandings can form.

When it comes to managing experienced employees, you should be aware that there are five fundamental differences in the way each generation approaches work.

Five Fundamental Differences between the Generations

1. Work style

  • Gen Xers and Gen Ys typically adopt a very flexible and fluid work style. They are comfortable with greater ambiguity in their work day and expect to control how and where they get their work done. In addition, they seek the greatest amount of flexibility in order to be able to blend both work and personal life responsibilities within their day. They often view Traditionalists’ insistence on following policies and Baby Boomers’ adherence to processes and procedures as potentially inefficient and non-productive.

2. Communication

  • Typically, Baby Boomers and Traditionalists complain about the lack of face-to-face communication desired by younger employees and, in particular, the casualness that Gen Ys exude with both customers and leaders. Conversely, younger generations are often frustrated with the number of face-to-face meetings they must attend. They often feel that web-based tools are more efficient and productive methods of communication.

3. Risk Tolerance

  • The level of risk tolerance is very different between the generations. Gen Xers and Gen Ys generally have a higher risk tolerance than their Baby Boomer and Traditionalist colleagues. In addition, Gen Xers and Gen Ys grew up in an era where companies released beta versions of software, asking user groups to help them improve it. As a result, younger employees or managers tend to feel that if a project, policy, process or procedure is 80% complete, the last 20% can be fixed after going live. Contrasting this, Baby Boomers grew up in a world that demanded perfectionism.

4. Respect

  • Older generations respect authority based on title, seniority and tenure. For younger generations, time spent on the job or title, holds less value than someone’s competency and ability to get the job done.

5. Time

  • Many Baby Boomers grew up in an environment where dedication to the job was measured by the number of hours spent in the office. In contrast, the younger generations’ motto is to work smarter, not harder. Gen Xers focus on achieving results with the maximum amount of time efficiency, so that they can leave the office or spend time on more interesting assignments. Gen Ys believe that their employment contract is fulfilled by meeting the contracted number of hours per week.

For more on managing experienced employees, see chapter seven of Upgrade Now: 9 Advanced Leadership Skills available at

Giselle Kovary

As president and co-founder of n-gen People Performance Inc., Giselle is dedicated to building strategies and programs that target, motivate and engage a multigenerational workforce. She is a sought after resource to industry leaders, having worked with 18 of the top Fortune 500 companies. Over 60,000 people globally have experienced an n-gen workshop or presentation. She has devoted more than fifteen years to researching the impact that generational differences have on organizational performance. Giselle has co-authored two books: Loyalty Unplugged: How to Get, Keep & Grow All Four Generations and Upgrade Now: 9 Advanced Leadership Skills. She has a Master’s degree in communication studies from the University of Windsor.

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