Recently a new generation of young professionals has begun to enter the workforce. With the broadest range of ages than ever before in the workforce, this presents new challenges for today’s leaders. Organizations have the responsibility of engaging employees who are in different stages of their careers and with a variety of life experiences.

To better lead a multigenerational workforce, we often see leaders divide employees into groups to identify and meet their needs. Organizations and leaders commonly use generalizations about age groups or personality tests like the Myers-Briggs type indicator or the five-factor personality model to make assumptions about employees. While these tools can be useful, they also have their limitations.


A simple web search of the term millennials will reveal thousands of articles – and generalizations about millennial attitudes, behaviors and needs. Millennials are entitled, job-hoppers that are glued to their phones, while baby boomers are resistant to technology and change, right? The truth is, classifying people by their generational values lacks credible research and the differences between these age groups are often blown out of proportion or simply incorrect.

In fact, it appears that our own mindset about generations in the workplace is leading us to believe we’re more different than alike. Young professionals and more experienced employees are often looking for the same things: a supportive leader, opportunities for growth and development and work-life balance. While generational cues may help provide a base level understanding of communication preferences, focusing on how to manage generations in the workplace is likely holding us back from really connecting with each other.


We’ve also noticed an increase in the use of personality tools and assessments in organizations to help determine who to hire, promote and assign projects. The Myers-Briggs Company claims their assessment is one of the world’s most popular personality tools used by more than 88 percent of Fortune 500 companies. This test and others, such as the DISC and big-five, monitor dominant personality traits like agreeableness, extraversion and influence.

Personality tests do have their advantages. Employees can use their results to help determine their strengths and workstyle preferences. When used in a group setting, personality tests provide a common language for teams to understand and appreciate their differences. Although information about workers’ personalities can be helpful to understand communication styles and preferences, there is debate about whether or not personality tests should be used to make hiring decisions.

When tests are given prior to an employment offer, applicants may be motivated to answer questions in a manner that will influence their results. Our personalities, while relatively consistent as adults, tend to shift based on circumstance and the individual themselves. Some people are high self-monitors and better able to regulate their emotions and behavior. On the other hand, low self-monitors tend to have reactions heavily influenced by their environment.

The growing popularity of attempting to manage generations and assess people by personality type in the workplace demonstrates our desire to better understand our colleagues and connect with each other. We can better accomplish this desire by understanding that we are all individuals with different work styles and needs.


Regardless of what generational studies or personality tests say, the best way to connect with young professionals, Generation X or baby boomers, is to get to know people as individuals. What motivates each person will be different, and this is true across all age groups. Some of us are more intrinsically motivated. Some people appreciate physical rewards. Others are competitive by nature and like to achieve difficult goals. To make work meaningful for individuals we recommend leaders practice the following tips.


Establish a routine cadence of one-on-one connections with employees to get to know them personally. Ask about their life outside of work, their goals, what they most enjoy and even their dislikes.


Through these conversations, and even with the use of the personality assessments, employees can identify their strengths. With their strengths and goals in mind, provide people with opportunities to develop and grow in their careers.


What motivates one employee is likely different for the next. The best way to discover what motivates people is to ask them during a one-on-one connection. As a trusting relationship is formed, people will often reveal their motivating factors during connections.


People do their best work when they enjoy what they are doing and have opportunities to strengthen their skills. As you form deeper relationships with your team, consider how you might better align their roles to their strengths, goals and purpose. When we connect people to what is meaningful to them and help them advance their skills, they feel valued and good about the work they do.

To connect all employees across generational boundaries, the best leaders treat people like individuals. They also personalize their work experience with responsibilities that align to their strengths and passions. The result is a positive workplace culture where people are engaged by the meaningful contributions they make.

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