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Managing different generations: How to effectively lead amid diversity

By Jack Campbell | |6 minute read

Modern leadership can be tricky to navigate, especially considering there can be up to five generations working among each other. People leaders who want to be effective must understand how to manage diverse workplaces.

Bringing out the best in workers involves keeping them happy and engaged. Leaders who recognise this can help to promote productivity by upholding morale.

“Effective and skilled managers recognise there are many universal human needs in their team members, such as purpose, autonomy, support and gratitude, whilst also understanding that adopting a one-size-fits-all approach to management overlooks key opportunities to help bring out the best in employees,” said Sabina Read, SEEK’s resident psychologist.


This can be tricky when age ranges are diverse. A 20-year-old worker fresh out of high school or university isn’t going to have the same wants and needs as someone ready to retire. This diversity must be acknowledged.

“Age is an element of workplace diversity that can be easily ignored, yet can offer insights into a person’s managerial preferences,” said Ms Read.

“Younger workers (aged 18–34 years old) value managerial traits such as ‘direct’ and ‘serious’ more so than older workers. These workers tend to be less experienced, and many have missed out on invaluable learning osmosis and role modelling as a result of remote working during the pandemic, so it makes sense that this cohort values more direct communication and guidance.”

“In comparison, their older counterparts (aged 55–64 years old) are the age group most likely to value a ‘fun’ manager, reflecting a possible shift in values in the latter working years, where playfulness and connection take precedence over more traditional workplace motivators.”

Ms Read continued: “Meanwhile, workers aged between 35–54 years old value a ‘hardworking’ and ‘optimistic’ manager the most, suggesting that a hopeful yet conscientious manager is inspiring during our mid-career years when motivation and engagement at work can plateau if left unchecked or unnurtured.”

Understanding what drives people as a whole is a better approach than focusing on specifics. Ms Read noted that employers should “never assume”, as from the outside, you can’t determine a person’s circumstances.

“While it pays to be wary of generational stereotypes which can fuel ageism, it’s also important to recognise that employees have had their beliefs and behaviours shaped by global forces throughout their life — for instance, having lived through the likes of the GFC or the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.

“A good rule of thumb in leadership is to never assume. Instead, ask your employees how they prefer to communicate, what motivates them to work and achieve, and what they value most in their role. These simple questions will help catalyse conversations about how you can best lead and manage to play to their strengths while taking the whole workforce on a journey towards shared goals and impact,” explained Ms Read.

“Promoting a sense of mutual understanding by appreciating each other’s differences and strengths will also encourage more productive teams and stimulate efficient ways of problem solving and collaborating.”

Honing leadership skills should be a top priority for any leader who wants to stay effective. Understanding that education never truly ends and staying open and willing to learn is crucial.

Ms Read added: “Curiosity, vulnerability, and an open mind are invaluable leadership traits and will help guide leaders to refine their leadership style to continually create impact and connection with their people, regardless of age. Asking for direct feedback from team members in both formal and informal ways is useful to understand your team’s needs, so long as it doesn’t result in people-pleasing behaviour and an unhelpful belief that you can be everything to everyone. A simple question a leader can ask their people to get the ball rolling is, ‘What do you need from me to help you shine?’”

“Understanding how you lead under pressure is also key to help guide leadership gaps and development opportunities. A good place to start is to reflect on managers that you have responded well to and why. Of course, just because you valued their leadership style doesn’t mean others would too, but this simple exercise can help create some perspective away from your own approach to leadership.”



Ageism, often known as age discrimination, is the act of treating someone unjustly because of their age. In the workplace, this might manifest as a person being passed over for a job or promotion, older workers being denied benefits or early termination of employment.

Jack Campbell

Jack Campbell

Jack is the editor at HR Leader.