How to Lead a Multigenerational Workforce to Success

Like many other sectors, the public sector workplace is changing when it comes to the age of its employees. 

Many people decide to retire either earlier or later, and different generations are attracted to the public sector and not for profit organisations because they embrace diversity and inclusion. 

Therefore, it’s becoming more common for managers to find themselves leading and developing a multigenerational team. 

Gen Y, Gen X, Boomers, Millennials, Gen Z – there are many buzz words and labels in the media to describe the multigenerational workforce we can experience. 

These individual groups have different motivations and consequently working styles, which can throw up several challenges when it comes to getting the best out of each individual. 

In this article, I’ll be taking a look at the different generational groups that make up our workplace today; what their expectations and drivers are, and how you can use this knowledge to work with your team. 

But first, let’s look at what the generational terms mean. 

Who Are these Generational Groups? 

You will probably have encountered the terms used to describe the different generations that make up today’s workforce, but perhaps you’re unclear as to who they are? 

The eldest group is the Baby Boomers – born between 1946 and 1964; they account for most of the currently held senior roles by nature of their longevity in the workplace. Gen X (1965 - 1979) follows the Boomers, and then the Millennials, also known as Gen Y (born between 1980 - 1994).  The most recent group to enter the workplace are Gen Z, born between 1995 and 2012. 

But how do they differ in working style, what are the potential challenges of having a multigenerational team, and how can you manage them successfully to lead a cohesive and collaborative workforce to success? 

Here’s what works for them – and what doesn’t… 

Working with Baby Boomers 

Boomers are typically seen as loyal to their organisation and value job security. Raised at a time when seniority was treated with deference, they are unlikely to approach senior leaders directly with ideas or concerns and therefore need their often-valuable contribution drawing out.  

Because of their loyalty, they are less likely to ’job hop’, and managers can maximise this by showing appreciation – Boomer’s age and experience make them knowledgeable brand ambassadors for your public sector organisation, valuable in their role and a critical conduit of information for younger team members too. 

Working with Generation X 

Gen X’ers often enjoy challenge and change. Independent and resourceful, they are more likely to push their knowledge and capability. Fail to challenge them in their work, and they may decide to leave, so it’s crucial to keep them engaged.  

While they tend to place more on merit than seniority, they lean towards the Boomers in that they accept it will take time for them to climb the public sector career ladder: therefore, they are willing to put the time and effort into achieving their career goals. You can maximise this by taking time to develop their skills and offering them a clear career path.  

Gen X frequently look for work-life harmony, and so may appreciate flexible working hours or working from home options. 

They often prefer to work autonomously, and so harnessing this to an extent is the key to developing what will be a generation of resourceful and determined public sector leaders of the future.
Working with Generation Y (Millennials) 

This generation has been much maligned in the media. Often called ‘narcissistic and lazy’ and yet this group have some excellent traits in the workplace. Characterised by exuberance, energy and passion - they often throw themselves headlong into whatever they are doing with commitment – and a fresh pair of eyes: all excellent attributes for the public sector. 

By developing their progressive and innovative ideas, you can push your organisation forward and challenge the status quo. 

Like the generation before them, they tend to place more on merit – your job title may not impress them - but by showing your credibility and competence, you can win their respect. Once inspired, they will show their commitment and enthusiasm in collaboratively working with you to achieve your organisational goals. 

Working with Generation Z 

The eldest of this generation are now in their early to mid-twenties, making them the youngest generation in the workforce. 

With many similarities to Millennials, Gen Z is characterised as tech-savvy and hyper-connected.  

If you have innovative projects or technology such as Artificial Intelligence in your public sector organisation – they are most likely the ideal participants as they have the enthusiasm and skills to deliver for you in this area. 

Like Gen Y, work-life balance is important to Gen Z, so having the ability to offer flexible arrangements will see them commit to your organisation rather than looking for other opportunities in a role elsewhere. 

Conversely, although they are motivated towards self-learning and technology, they need the human factor and want interaction with you, their manager, and other team members.  
By providing these members of your team with regular opportunities to check in with you, offering feedback and a high level of support, you will encourage their thirst for knowledge and keep them motivated. 

Although not all individuals in each generational group behave the same, they do have many shared attributes that align with their life experiences. And the different generations are often characterised by diverse expectations of work, behaviour and life in general. 

Employee expectations of what they want from their work, and how they want to progress their career, have changed. Your public sector organisation’s ethos, culture and career opportunities play a pivotal role in helping individuals decide if they want to stay with you and grow - or look for other opportunities. 

By understanding the motivations and drivers in your multigenerational workforce, you can get the best out of each individual and build a cohesive unit who bring their own areas of expertise to the table. 


Heather Clarke 
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Harris Burns are specialists in Executive Search and Senior Finance appointments within the Public Sector; with particular expertise in NHS, Housing and Charity Sectors.   
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