By Ananya Mukherjee

Once upon a time, though not so long ago, the “boss” was an unquestionable wise man with grey hair, whose conclusive authority, wisdom and abilities were NOT to be contested under any circumstance. But all that is history!

Today, you could very well be in your mid-40s reporting to a red-haired Gen-Y kid who calls everyone by their first names, plays Angry Birds between meetings and prefers to work from home when it is raining too hard. Nonetheless, his technical and leadership skills are one of the finest you have seen, he is open to suggestions, does not believe in micromanagement and never asks “where are you?” when you are offsite. The result—work still gets done on time, but the office seems a little more lively and innovative than before.

Research reveals that people at work communicate to each other based on their generational backgrounds. In an organisation that employs multiple generations, the generational differences can affect everything including recruitment and retention, talent management, team building, change management, employee motivation, rewards and recognition policies, compensation and benefit programmes and even performance management. Needless to say, a clear understanding and correct interpretation of the workplace behaviour of each generation is an absolute must for all organisations.

Use different strokes for different folks

Recruitment managers are realising just how heavily generational factors weigh on a prospective candidate’s decision to such as branding, flexible-working ethics and culture, loyalty, flexible working arrangements and telecommuting options play a major role in how baby boomers, Gen X or Gen Y make their career decisions. Just for instance, a baby boomer may opt for a location that requires him to commute the least to work or look for post-retirement employment options in an organisation that invites him for an interview. A Gen X candidate may focus primarily on employer stability, financial security and work-life balance. For a Gen-Y talent, who is not afraid to switch jobs for better opportunities, a free-agency attitude flexible-working arrangement and corporate branding are likely to be the key attractions.

Naturally to tap diverse generations, HR has to think out of the box, design and customise recruitment strategies that match the requirements of the different generations.“There are many different generations to consider when recruiting Gen X, Y, Z and the new Gen C, which is the subset of Gen Y born between 1982 and 2001. The key difference here is that Gen C has grown up connected to the internet all the time. They are the digital generation and are exceptionally tech-savvy so attracting this group – which will grow exponentially over the next decade – is going to be a critical area of focus for us from a recruitment perspective,” Nada Buckley, Vice President, Human Resources, CA Technologies, Asia-Pacific and Japan, observes.

When recruiting Baby Boomers and Gen X, HR focuses on areas such as flexibility in working arrangements, including flexible working hours, part-time work opportunities, work from home arrangements and phased retirement plans, Buckley shares. Gen Y, on the other hand, expect different things from the organisation they work for. “They have a strong requirement for personal flexibility as well, but they want to know what their career path will look like, what their advancement opportunities are, what investment the company will make in their personal growth as well as what sorts of tools can they expect as part of their package (eg mobile phones, laptops/iPads, Blackberries, what type of social networking the company provides etc). So we focus on providing clear information to each respective group to ensure that they know what we offer and that their needs can be met when they join us. When advertising for roles we also consider which sort of places/magazines/internet sites Baby Boomers vs Gen Y use to find work and make sure we target accordingly,” Buckley highlights.

Think out of the box

In targeting the different generations of employees, just as it is important to assess what they want in a job, it is also critical to understand what platforms they use when looking for a job. “Generation X and Y employees would be highly focused on the web, not just job portals but other social networking tools like TwitterLinkedIn and Facebook. More mature workers are still using the web to browse for roles, but in general they would not be as savvy as the younger set in searching outside of the portals,” Matt Beath, Regional Chief Executive Officer, Recruitment Asia, Singapore, observes. Naturally, the tactics involved in engaging them also will differ. For a Gen Y candidate, it would be acceptable to send a Short Message Service (SMS) with a few details to ascertain their interest. However, a baby boomer or more mature worker would be more comfortable meeting in person or speaking over the phone. They would also have more questions and take a more careful view of each and every opportunity.

In a job interview, whilst a formal and traditional approach may not appeal to a Gen Y candidate, a casual approach to a baby boomer candidate may lead him/her to conclude that the company is not serious about the opportunity.

Also, while hiring, don’t forget, a strong employer brands attract candidates across different demographics as they have broad appeal and offer multiple “pull factors” that appeal to the different generations in the workforce. You must have an overarching employer brand that is positive. However, you will need to go a step further and categorise specific roles / teams / business units so that the tasks that require a certain specific candidate age-group appeal to that segment.

Choose the carrots & sticks wisely

As talent from different generations enter a workforce, HR has to be acutely aware of the needs of each group and manage, motivate and reward the different generations based on this fundamental understanding. What motivates one may not influence the other group at all. Tailoring the human resource policies to suit those individual needs is what HR needs to imbibe in its design.

“We try to cater to each group differently,” says Hana Lee, Head, Human Resources, McDonald’s Restaurants. The workforce has a distinct mosaic of generations. More than half of its employees are Gen Y whilst Baby Boomers and Mature Workers comprise just over a quarter of McDonald’s workforce. “A younger worker may value flexibility more as they pursue their studies or other interests, whilst an older employee might appreciate the family atmosphere and team spirit they can enjoy working in our restaurants,” she adds. HR recognises that every individual has his/her own lifestyle, aspirations and commitments, and has designed flexible work schedules which provide work-life balance and an ideal arrangement to meet the employees’ needs.

“Different age groups get motivated by different things, as we have observed and we try to cater to their needs by making our benefits flexible. For instance, we have seen that the younger generation tends to use these flexi benefits and flexi dollars on items that suit their lifestyles. On the other hand, those with families want to use the dollar for a member of his/her family. We allow them to do that. This keeps staff motivated and retains them,” June Wong, Recruiting Manager, F5 Singapore, corroborates. Sometimes, a simple tweak in the compensation package, a timely promotion or a training initiative for faster career development may do the magic for talent motivation and retention.

However, it is key to review employee feedback on a consistent basis to check if your assumption of the motivational buttons is correct. For instance, a baby boomer may be more motivated by a bonus than a sponsored vacation or a Gen Y employee may not believe in waiting for a year-end bonus. He may become more productive if monetary rewards and recognition are given at the time when it is earned. Exploring reward plans that cater to the diversity of needs and individual preferences would be thus more effective than rolling out a one-size-fit-all programme.

Last words of wisdom

Hiring and managing cross-generational groups is a business challenge for all companies now. Also, with retirement looming very closely for Baby Boomers who carry a huge amount of intellectual property, ensuring that employers meet their needs so as to keep them longer in the workforce, whilst also leveraging the enormous potential of Gen Y who come with amazing levels of knowledge, global interconnectivity and innovative thinking – is a continuous focus for HR functions in all organisations.

However, hiring managers may risk falling into the trap of over generalising employees and potential employees based on the diversity of generations. You have to remember that each candidate is a unique talent with his or her own set of expectations and requisites, most importantly specific skills and experience who may add value to the organisation with his/her own competitive edge.

In the next wave of change, as Gen X workforce ascend the corporate ladder and hire Gen Y, some of these gaps will be bridged and hiring approaches will automatically change for the best.


Baby Boomers

  • Location
  • Financial security and stability
  • Loyalty and corporate ethics
  • Opportunities for post-retirement employment
  • Mentoring & coaching options

Generation X

  • Employer stability
  • Empowerment
  • Work-life balance
  • Flexible-work arrangement
  • Leadership training opportunities

Generation Y

  • Free-agency attitude
  • Flexi-time working arrangement
  • Cutting-edge technology
  • Learning and development opportunities
  • Corporate Branding


Baby Boomer and Gen X

  • Flexibility and respect
  • Coaching and mentoring opportunities
  • Flexible-work arrangement

Gen Y

  • Praise & recognition
  • Career opportunities
  • Access to volunteering activity
  • Technology tools


  • Work-life Balance – These two generations put tremendous effort in their work but unlike the baby boomers, they also place a high value on their personal time away from the workplace. Job offers that lack the needed support, tools or technology that will hinder this balance may not be the first choice for Gen X or Y candidate.
  • Skills Path – Gen X and Y talent are looking for a “skills path”. They want to understand what skills are needed to be successful in the position today and what skills they will personally develop or acquire within the company once they are hired.
  • Sherpa Managers – Gen X and Y highly value the manager-employee relationship. They view their manager as a guide – an experienced Sherpa to make sure they are on the right path
  • The hiring manager needs to connect with the Gen X and Y candidate on a personal level during the interview process. Work Smarter, Not Harder – Gen X and Y are strategic thinkers. They don’t believe in spending hours working hard when the same result can be achieved by working smart. Managers must focus on the achievements rather than the way in which a job has been done.