Challenges of Multigenerational Workforce in Public Organization


Many managers are contending with the issue of how to manage a workforce that is made up of different age sets and be able to make them realize the objectives of the organization. At the same time these achievement should be done in a peaceful and harmonious environment. If you are the manager to do all these tasks then it must not be easy at all. Today the work environment is composed of a multigenerational workforce composed of Generation X ands Generation Y. Both generations are talented and needed in the workforce. This has led to an environment where as (Adams, 2004) summarized in his study that management of Human capital becomes even more difficult due to the differences in both attitudes and perceptions towards work. This is more important if the manager is dealing in areas of the public sector as it may mean that skills and knowledge have to be sought in order to know how to cope with working with all people in the organization. The roles undertaken by public sector offices such as the Occupational Safety & Health Council serve the wider public.

As the next generation enter the work force it is then important for managers to know how to tap into their minds of everyone in the -workforce in order to mine out all the potential that they may acquire, failure to which the organization may suffer and at the same time be able to treat the older set of employees in a manner that they may also feel comfortable working for the employer. It is important to merge core values of the new Generation Y to other generations working for the organizations.

In a study (Smola, 2002) confirmed that despite each person in the office or in the work setting having a shared vision towards realizing the goal of the organization, each and every individual possesses their own different personal values a their work and it is the responsibility of the managers to ensure that these values do not interrupt with work flow. Disruptions may come in the form of conflicts between employees or between the employee and their workers. This can bring a lack of understanding among the two sets of generations i.e. generation X and generation Y. Each of these groups has unique distinctiveness.

Case Study: The Occupational Safety & Health Council

The Occupational Safety & Health Council is a statutory body established and mandated to promotion of safety and health of both blue collar and white collar employees all across Hong Kong. It serves the public but in itself is not a government run institution. The remuneration packages for the council are close to that of the government and salary increment also follows increment in the civil service. Promotion however is based on a hierarchal system whereby for one to be promoted to the next level, he/she should wait for the employees who came before him/her5 to be promoted first. This not only kills the morale of the employees but breeds in a culture of laziness and mediocrity among junior staff. The bureaucratic culture found in the government system has been rooted in the organization and this has led to conflicts within the organization. Promotion of younger members of staff can onluy happen after senior members have retired, resigned or has died while still holding their positions. This breeds in lack of motivation and this is manifested by the quality of serve delivered to the public.

Current Situation: At the moment there are presently 60 full time employees comprising of 20 frontline staff who are categorized under generation X and Generation Y. In his findings (Howe, 2000) categorized the characteristics of Generation X are most of them have families or are planning to do so in the near future, career development has been elusive for them, they have already achieved the maximum pay incentives they can as per their position within the organization as they have worked for the organization for more than 6 years. Another aspect that stands out is that they have no desire to enrich their education as they are already satisfied with the positions that they hold. Such people are not willing to work extra or beyond their responsibilities as they are bent on maintaining their status quo.

Generation Y: This group comprises of recently employed individuals. When compared to generation X, they are inspired to work more hours and sometimes with no incentive. They are able to perform effectively and much more productively as work is done much faster. People of this generation are better at assisting others as they have a sense of teamwork within them. Further education for people within this generation is a requisite as they view the world becoming more and more competitive.

Problem analysis

The problem identified in the council among staff was there was lack of motivational drive among employees categorized under generation X. This lack of motivation was not limited to a certain gender but applied across all persons who were in this category. In his research (Locke, 1990) summarized that it is quite evident that persons in Gen. X do not follow the notion that “hard work results in good dividends.” Despite the council’s initiative in trying to promote motivation among all employees, most of the people in this category have resigned to the fact that they have reached the peak of their careers and are not ready to sacrifice more in terms of more studies or acquiring more skills. The introduction of a multigenerational workforce has hence made them resign to the fact that there are younger colleagues who will work harder. One cause for this behavior is the fact that most employees belonging to this generation witnessed their parents or relatives being laid off. This trauma has not escaped them yet and has made them pessimistic about being loyal to an organization. The lack of teamwork displayed by Gen. X is linked to their sense of work-life balance that they take so strongly that they are not willing to extend some time in the office. They are seeking to maintain control over other facets of their lives. The difference between Generation X and Generation Y in the Council was not identified to age but the underlying reasons for working hard in the first place.

Debate has been ripe as to whether this behavior within the multigenerational workforce in the council is as a result of the aging of the employees or the historical events and perceptions being held by employees within the council. One question that remains are what will happen when the Generation Y have worked for about the same number of years i.e. over six years in the council, will they display the same habits as we are witnessing from Generation X? Such questions are being asked by managers within the council with the knowledge that very soon some of the Individuals classified as Gen X will be retiring. It was also noted that employees classified under Gen. Y are eager to prove to themselves and the world that they are capable of achieving set goals and objectives and their willingness to work with each other is attributed to their upbringing where technology played a part in bringing people together. As the older generation focus on other parts of their lives the younger generation are more interested in furthering their career and this causes a huge generational gap in the office that can lead to conflicts both within and without the office. The key for the council is to try and attract and maintain a multigenerational approach towards hiring employees. This is because it is forecasted that there will be a lack of employees as the number of people under generation X retiring and not enough Gen Y’s replenishing the company. We have to first identify the persons being labeled as generation X and generation Y.

Characteristics of Generation X and Generation Y

In his book (Buchannan,1974) describes a generation as a certain group that shares the years of birth and major life events during early stages while growing up. Such events could include the onset of technology. It is this significant experience that distinguishes one generation from the other. People are also influenced by the generation they belong to and the associated trends followed by others belonging to it.

Generation X is normally referred to the generation of the baby bust. This period was around 1967 to 1979 and was characterized by events such as energy crisis and the rise of feminism in the society. It is also during this period that the firs computer was invented. During this period not many babies were born due to the empowerment of women s they now felt more educated and liberal. Ladies or female responsibility was redefined as they started engaging themselves in roles that at the time was accustomed to men. Due to liberalization of women, the number of births was fewer than other generations simply because the ladies practiced active family planning. Babies born into this generation were considered to have had a better quality of life than other preceding generations. During this time human rights were upheld and thus meant that it was easier for one to acquire basic services such as education, and social services. The number of workers within this generation is many as at the time of finishing school, people belonging to this generation are believed to have better job opportunities than any other generation. Individuals belonging to this generation are thought out as people who posses skills and knowledge that are required in the work environment. They are the most dynamic and can accommodate views from nearly everyone. The belief that runs amongst them is that we should dwell in what brings us together rather than what tears us apart.

Generation Y: This generation consists of off springs belonging to generation X. Person categorized as generation Y is characterized by birth years, between 1980 and 1995. This generation is seen as enjoying the fruits of technology that was present in the form of the internet revolution, Cable television, mobile telephony and compact disks. The distinctive moments for this group are defined by an upsurge of school violence, i.e. the shooting in high schools, scandals that touched on the lives of celebrities. This period is also characterized by a rise in freedom as the internet grew at the fastest rate at this time. People in this group have witnessed the impacts of terrorist actions and subsequent wars that followed. They have also seen the negative impacts brought forth by restructuring efforts and the dot com bubble. This generation is eager to face challenges more than any other generations and this has been manifested through the rise in entrepreneurship and technological solutions to common societal problems example, social networking sites etc.

Generational Gap

Researchers have established that there is a gap that exists between the two sets of generations which affected the overall future of the company or organization that they worked for. Generation Y were found to be more risk averse and hence they looked for challenges in their undertakings. This meant that they changed jobs more frequently solely for the basis of looking for greener pastures elsewhere. Employers have reported that this generation is he hardest to satisfy. Most generation Y respondents in an interview held, acknowledged that they fancied short term rewards and were not ready to wait for rewards such as pensions that were to be awarded in the long-term. In order to satisfy his group to stay on the job and work harder, managers have had to come up with pay incentives that will reward their efforts. Individuals in this group demand for more salaries as they want to create more financial and capital leverage for themselves and their families. This also means that management has had to come up with more responsibilities and better ways to understand this group of workers. In the past supervisors were more concerned with conflict resolution. As for generation X, they were less demanding and supervision and management is far much easier.

Connection between age and Work Values

Researchers have tried to establish whether work values change with experiences brought forth by incidences and events that took place during their upbringing or is it that the notion of work matures over time? These questions have been raised by researchers in order to address the pertinent issues that have been at the mid of most managers and Supervisors. Very soon we will start seeing the retirement of many individuals belonging to generation X. This will bring dynamic change into the workplace as it will now require management to come up with new strategies to attract and retain staff and employees in the workplace. Further understanding into this issue is required. In one research It was been noted that the perception of employees towards work often changes as people progress through life and also as they age. Other researchers found that there is no change towards work values and fulfillment form work did not change significantly despite a rise in salaries. There was an inherent variation on what satisfied different individuals belonging to different generations. A good example of this was how people fitting into the boomer stage of had more of a humanistic and moral belief towards life and this was reflected back to the work environment where they seemed to engage in less conflicts and aspired to achieve more with less supervision. Researchers also found out that work values varied with the progression of age. In a study conducted by (Howe, 2000) ,where 3 age groups (17-26, 27-39 and 40-65) year olds were tested on their perception on work. The research found out that the younger employees did not take work seriously and that they did not appreciate their work and its impact on others and the society in general. This contrasted greatly when compared to the older folks (40-65) year olds who took their work seriously as if performing for themselves. This showed a variation in the perception of work with an increase in age. Hence the researchers concluded that age has a great effect in how we perceive and perform work.

Solutions to attracting and Retaining a Multigenerational Staff

In his book (Kupperschmidt, 2000) concluded that in order for the people under Generation X to stay and be productive to the company, there needs to be a positive psychological contract that binds the employer their employee. We have realized that in the council, Individuals in the Gen Y are exhibiting what is termed as a change from an institutional career to one of a protean career. In this we mean that the younger generation in the council is set on building and enhancing their skill set that they can use to guarantee further employability in case an opportunity presents itself. In his study (Katz, 1958) defined this is a paradigm shift from organizational career where majority of Generation X belong to. An Organizational career is bent on provision of prospects to employees in order grow and develop in their professions. Hence a balance has to be met in order to come to a balance as also Gen Y have a set of demands that come with having a protean career. An organization must be ready to cater for both generations as the younger generation will claim a higher salary from the employer, more flexible working hours and better leverage in terms of financial instruments. These instruments can come in the form of owning stocks in the company. In his book (Kidwell, 2003) stated that it is through the assistance of human resource office and research conducted, it was discovered that for employees who are have just joined the council, were more dedicated towards career development, those in the mid level time of their career were more dedicated towards securing their jobs and those in the last stage must address what can motivate all the genre of employees.


Motivation can be applied on various characteristics in order to ensure that productivity is gained from the council’s human capital. The company can focus on each and every individual and coming up with a custom package as to how to address issues that may motivate the staff. However this approach is tiresome and will be seen to be biased as two people with the same qualifications and responsibilities nearing the retirement were more bent towards securing their financial futures and that of their families. In order for us to come up with a proper solution, we cannot be paid different salaries. In his book (Tulgan, 2001) stated that he may also like to acknowledge that characteristics of employees change as they become more involved in the workplace but we cannot rely on this as a focus for motivating the employee. Another variable that can be used in the motivation that will lead to retention of employees within the council is if we consider boosting the characteristics of the job. This will include the management coming up with creative measures to enhance the set of works that make up the job. In a study (George, 1999) concluded that management can first establish the performance of the individual and the degree of challenge in the job being undertaken by the employee. The job could be very repetitive and this can dampen the morale of the individuals.

In his research (Huntley, 2006) concluded that there exists a problem in public institutions as there are jobs that performance can be measured and targets set and there other jobs where we cannot fully evaluate the output of the employee. In her book (Jurkiewicz, 2000) she states that another variable that can be checked in order to motivate employees is to check on the environment that the employee is working under. An employee’s environment comprises of immediate task, colleagues and Supervisor/manager. By altering one or all of these components then any employee in the workplace is bound to get motivated. The council can introduce rewards to staff for undertaking innovative projects and also the provision of suitable working climate where communication between staff and management is promoted.


In order for productivity to be boosted in the workplace there is need for us to establish and come up with better ways of treating our employees as well as treating managers in return. The presence of a multigenerational workforce should be used to strengthen and motivate everyone to act and be innovative towards the need of the organization. The psychological contract between the employee and his/ her employer should reflect a good understanding of the relations that is enjoyed. Management should face the fact that in the future there will be lack of staff and hence they will need to retain the persons belonging to Generation X. This will require the organization to find ways and means to make them become more interested through promoting more pay incentives.


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Huntley, R. (2006) The World according to Y: Inside the New Adult Generation. Sydney:.Allen & Unwin.

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