6 Expert Tips for Effectively Managing Multigenerational Teams

Integrating the ideas and values of Gen X workers to baby boomers can boost company success, according to a panel of construction leaders.

Jean Dimeo, Editorial Director, ConstructioNext, WOC360, IRE360

April 11, 2024

5 Min Read
Panther Media GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo

There are five generations of workers in the construction industry, and companies need to embrace them all to be successful, according to a panel of experts that included fathers and their children working with them in construction.

“Put people in charge, whether they are young or old,” said Tommy Ruttura, president of Ruttura & Sons Construction Co. “And talk to them. I ask them how things are going. They appreciate that.”

Kristy Willis, associate professor in residence and head of construction undergraduate program management at Bradley University, led the panel discussion at World of Concrete 2024. She said those in the workforce are:

  1. Silent generation—born 1925-1945.

  2. Baby boomers—born 1946-1964.

  3. Gen X—born 1965-1980.

  4. Millennials—born 1981-1995.

  5. Gen Z—born 1996-2010.

Most U.S. workers are boomers, Gen Xers and millennials, and there are significant differences in their work ethic, motivational drivers, loyalty to their employers, values, communication and leadership styles, and outlooks, Willis said.

Younger workers “have a much better work-life balance than other generations,” Willis said.

But that’s challenging for some older business owners to understand.

“Millennials and Gen Xers are hard workers, but they want to go home at 5 o’clock,” said Ruttura, who noted he still gets up at 4 a.m. for work.

Related:The Comprehensive Guide to Hiring and Retaining Women in Construction

Unlike their older counterparts, “They don’t want to come to work from six to six, go home and eat dinner and come back,” Ruttura said. “You have to set expectations, but maybe compromise a little bit.”

Willis said baby boomers view authority with a love-hate relationship, while Gen Xers are unimpressed and unintimidated by authority. Millennials, on the other hand, tend to be polite.

Boomers solve problems in a horizontal fashion, while Gen Xers are independent and millennials are collaborative. As for decision making, boomers want to make the decisions and inform their teams; Gen Xers include teams in decisions while millennials let the team make the decisions.

Their outlooks also run the gamut, Willis said: Boomers tend to be optimistic; Gen Xers are skeptical and millennials are hopeful.

Finally, the generations don’t share the same thoughts about workplace training, Willis said. Boomers say, “Give me too much training and I’ll leave.” On the other hand, Gen Xers say, “It’s required for (me) to stay at a company,” and millennials believe “It should be expected and continuous.”

Let assumptions go

Construction managers need to let go of the assumptions they have of millennials, in particular, Willis said; that is, that they are the way they are because of helicopter parenting, dual-income households and the need for everyone to receive a trophy for participation.

Related:Retaining Employees Starts on Day 1

She said managers should motivate this group by:

  • Leading, not managing them.

  • Minimizing your differences.

  • Collaborating.

  • Giving feedback.

  • Providing flexibility.

“You don’t have to lead every millennial; you have to lead the few who will work for you,” she said. “So, take the time to get to know them, especially their communication styles and personalities.”

Two ways you can learn about their communication styles, Willis said, are through the DiSC Profile Assessment or an introspective analysis. Also, you can employ the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or Enneagram personality test to help understand what motivates them and what their stress triggers are.

Willis noted: “We are still complaining about millennials, but Gen X is here” in the construction workforce.

Create robust onboarding and training programs

Willis said hiring millennials is only one part of the challenge. To retain them, you should provide strong onboarding and training programs and be collaborative because unlike the boomers, they don’t want to be viewed individually.

‘Co-invest’ in younger generations

Related:Reframe the Way You Think About Firing Employees

Loyalty doesn’t exist with younger workers. “Employment is no longer for a lifetime, your company is not a family to millennials, and both sides make promises they can’t keep,” Willis said.

Younger workers want “co-investment,” with employers investing in workers’ “market value” and employees investing in the company’s success. “The result is a mutually beneficial alliance instead of a transactional relationship,” she said.

Provide mentoring

Construction firms have to acknowledge that employees will leave and that’s OK. But those who intend to stay for more than five years are twice as likely to have a mentor, according to a Deloitte survey that Willis sourced.

The keys to successful mentoring relationships are:

  • Developing a trusting relationship.

  • Defining roles and responsibilities.

  • Establishing goals.

  • Collaborating to solve problems.

Instead of just mentoring early career employees, try reverse mentoring, also called co-mentoring, which helps bridge generational gaps, Willis said. It offers an opportunity to better understand millennials and a venue to share insights, thoughts and questions.

Give constructive feedback

Be open to suggestions, create safe ways for workers to provide feedback and only solicit feedback if you are going to consider and utilize it, Willis says.

There are several ways to gather feedback including using online tools such as Zoho Survey, Typeform surveys and others or by conducting informational one-on-one conversations with employees.

As for day-to-day communication, “Younger guys respond better by text, older guys by phones,” said Steve Lloyd, president of Lloyd Concrete Services.

And he added: “A phone call makes more of an impact. It’s more personal.” The other older panelists agreed.

Plus, Willis said, a one-minute phone call can clear up an issue that might take dozens of text messages.

But all the panelists acknowledged that each generation must give a little when it comes to communication styles.

Offer a variety of benefits

Finally, construction leaders need to assess their company benefits to see if they align with the values of the younger people they want to hire and retain, Willis said. Benefits should include:

  • Paid time off and flextime.

  • Health care and other insurance.

  • Retirement savings accounts.

  • Laptops, phones, iPads and software.

  • Other options.

Millennials and Gen Xers also want access to more technology on the jobsites, which might help ease the labor shortage too. Stevie Ray Lloyd said new equipment for one project reduced the crew by eight workers. The younger Lloyd said his father Steve is “all for the technology now.”

“I love technology,” the senior Lloyd said, “but you have to prove it to me. The older generation wants it proven to work. The younger generation saw it on YouTube, and they think it’s going to work.”

On a final note, Willis told construction managers to “quit trying to lead a generation and learn to lead your few.”

“My responsibility as the cheerleader of the company is to build people up,” Ruttura added. “If you lead them, they will do anything for you.”

About the Author(s)

Jean Dimeo

Editorial Director, ConstructioNext, WOC360, IRE360, Informa Markets

Jean Dimeo is an award-winning editor, writer and publication manager who has worked in construction publishing for 30 years. Dimeo was managing editor of Construction Dive, our sister publication about commercial construction, and the editor in chief of Builder, EcoHome and Building Products, all about residential building and remodeling. She also worked as an editor for a Spanish-language construction publication and as a building products expert for consumer magazines including Better Homes & Gardens SIPs.

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