LEADING, managing and motivating staff remains a big challenge for department heads, managers and supervisors. This is even tougher when they have to do it across three generations of employees — baby boomers, Generation X (Gen X) and Generation Y (Gen Y).

Let me share some insights about Gen X and Y employees so that you — their superiors — are able to lead, connect with and motivate them effectively at the workplace.


Understanding Gen X and Y staff

Gen X (born between 1965 and 1980): In their 30s and 40s, Gen Xers would have worked in an organisation for around 10 to 25 years. They are working hard to build their careers and to provide for their young families. Gen X staff are more open to diversity and have learnt to embrace differences of religion, sexual orientation, class, race and ethnicity.

Gen Y (born between 1981 and 2000): These young employees are more tech-savvy than any generation before them. They are starting out on their career and have limited family obligations. Many grew up seeing their baby boomer or Gen X parents work round-the-clock on stressful corporate jobs and this has shaped their own views about the workforce.



There are differences in the way these two generations have been brought up:

Gen X

•   Looked after by grandparents or were latch-key kids

•   Brought up to be tough and independent

•   Taught to respect and obey authority

Gen Y

•   Looked after by overprotective parents and maids

•   More pampered and dependent

•   Taught to ask questions and challenge authority


Values and characteristics

Due to their different upbringing, Gen X and Y workers have different values and characteristics:

Gen X values

•   Work-life balance

•   Patience and hard work

•   Achievement and recognition

Gen X characteristics

•   Team players who focus on “we”

•   Committed to work, even mundane tasks

•   Able to handle setbacks and failures

Gen Y values

• Work-life integration

•   Take shortcuts for quick success and instant rewards

•   Self-expression and attention

Gen Y characteristics

•   More individualistic — tend to focus on “me”

•   Lack commitment and hate mundane tasks

•   May crack under pressure and quit when faced with setbacks and failures


Connecting and communicating

Superiors need to “build bridges” to get to know staff better in order to maximise team performance. Here are three possible ways:

•   Spend more time having meals and tea breaks with individual employees;

•   Speak and listen more to employees; and

•   Help them when they are in trouble at work. Give good advice and deliver pep talks.

Mature managers and supervisors should not see younger staff as troublemakers simply because they are more vocal and less obedient. Spend more time talking to them to understand their dreams and aspirations.

In the workplace, do not issue commands to them and expect total obedience. Instead, influence and persuade them to “buy in” to your views and take action. Give them challenging assignments to stretch them to their fullest potential. Be a mentor and good friend to your younger staff to help them to grow personally and professionally.



There are different motivational factors for different generations.

Gen X staff are motivated by:

•   Career progression

•   Achievements

•   Work-life balance

Gen Y staff are motivated by:

•   Flexible work arrangements

•   Meaningful and challenging tasks

•   New tasks and different types of work exposure

Spend more time on understanding your Gen X and Y staff. This will help you to connect and communicate better with them. You can then lead and motivate them differently to optimise individual and team performance.


Article by Ken Wong, leadership and service excellence coach with ProActive Training & Education. He is a multilingual seminar speaker, corporate trainer and workshop facilitator. To contact him, e-mail enquiries@ProactiveTrg.com or visit www.ProactiveTrg.com.