The term “multigenerational workforce” refers to the fact that many companies employ workers spanning every generation: baby-boomers approaching retirement; Generation X, contributing decades of experience and knowledge; millennials stepping into manager roles; and Generation Z, digital natives fresh out of high school or college.

AD: Why is it so important today to engage the multigenerational workforce?

Zenk: In today’s economy, people are the #1 creator of value in your company. People will power the future of work, so the onus is on manufacturers to balance the diverse needs and motivations of their multigenerational workforce today to engage their people and unlock their company’s full potential.

AD: How do the needs of baby-boomers, Gen Xers, and millennials in the workforce differ?

Zenk: Every generation has had different life experiences and, as a result, holds a unique perspective. When you consider they are often working toward different goals, it makes sense that the motivations of each generation will vary. Studies show that motivation in the form of monetary benefits, promotions, peer recognition, and respect tends to resonate highest among baby-boomers. Gen X, on the other hand, values work-life balance and manager recognition, as well as bonuses and stock options. Millennials are motivated by stock options, too, but also value flexible schedules, time off, mentoring, and feedback.

AD: What about the needs of the next generation to enter the workforce — Gen Z?

Zenk: Gen Z works hard and wants to contribute — but admit they would work harder and stay longer at a company if they had a supportive manager (according to 1 in 3) or if their employer offered schedule flexibility (say 1 in 4). They also want good pay but aren’t just working for a paycheck — they’re looking to do work that makes them happy. And according to 1 in 3 Gen Zers, strong working relationships with their team and recognition from their managers will motivate them and offer validation that they’re on a path to success. These finding are from The Workforce Institute’s study on Gen Z in the workplace.

AD: Do these different generations have any needs in common?

Zenk: What motivates each generation is oftentimes a reflection on their current stage of life. Whereas millennial employees once cared more about work perks, like tuition assistance or pet insurance, now they may be raising a family and paying a mortgage — meaning that job stability and benefits linked to work-life balance are likely much more important.

The expectations of the workforce are always evolving as each generation progresses through their careers, and a new demographic steps in to fill their shoes on the ground level. So, although new expectations and demands will surface, employers will likely see the needs of their workforce overlap — at least over time. To compete for talent, manufacturers will need to be agile and willing to tailor their culture and people practices as new employee expectations arise.

AD: How can management help to erase the misconceptions each generation has of the others, ensuring that they respect one another’s needs?

Zenk: Warranted or not, members of the various generations may have bias or possible misconceptions about members of other generations. For example, while general perception is that Gen Z is difficult to manage, 1 in 3 Gen Zers believe themselves to be the hardest-working generation. And, while today the youngest members of the workforce may be dubbed the job-hopping generation, that moniker was once used to describe millennials.

Empowering managers to be effective leaders will be the key to uniting manufacturing’s multigenerational workforce. All employees, regardless of tenure, want a strong and supportive manager, and in fact 9 out of 10 workers say the relationship they have with their manager is a make-or-break factor when deciding to stay in their current job. Further, 37 percent of Gen Z would flat-out never tolerate an unsupportive manager, while 29 percent say a poor manager would affect their performance at work. However, today’s managers — according to manufacturing employees surveyed by The Workforce Institute — get low marks, with 1 in 3 employees saying they are unsatisfied with their current manager’s work ethic. Building an inspired workforce starts at the top. Organizations should have a clear plan for leadership development and effectiveness in order to set current and future managers up for ongoing success.

AD: Are there specific benefits derived from having a multigenerational workforce — i.e., what can each generation learn from the others (e.g., reverse mentoring, etc.)?

Zenk: Today’s multigenerational workforce brings together a wealth of diverse skills, experiences, and perspectives. There is a lot value in having such a deep well of historical knowledge and technical expertise under one roof. But 1 in 4 manufacturing employees today are over the age of 55, and by 2025 we’ll see around two million baby-boomers retire. An incredible amount of experience is about to walk out the door, and manufacturers must take immediate action to think about how to combat this problem — if they haven’t already.

To maintain productivity, knowledge-transfer initiatives need to take place now — companies simply can’t afford to wait. Organizations should establish mentorship programs to engage the existing workforce and build a channel to transfer knowledge from experienced employees to newly hired talent. Companies can also organize internal apprenticeships and create new opportunities to upskill or cross-train current employees to help them advance within the company and fill important workforce gaps that will soon be left by retirees. And because Gen Z is eager for advancement opportunities, initiatives that show a continued investment in training and developing the workforce will be viewed as an attractive benefit.

AD: Can technology help to turn this multigenerational workforce into a cohesive unit?

Zenk: Absolutely — leveraging technology is a critical factor in modernizing and mobilizing the entire manufacturing workforce and should be fully integrated into the employee experience. Investing in consumer-grade HCM technology, for example, helps to streamline daily tasks for all employees — from boomers to Gen Z. Even something as simple as providing employees with easy, mobile access to their timecards, schedule, time-off balances, benefit selections, paystubs, and more can create a better workplace experience. Managers also benefit from a more intelligent and automated approach to developing employee schedules that align to production demands, managing employee performance, addressing employee absence, and approving timecards, leaving more time to engage with their teams and focus on operational goals.

However, whenever introducing any new technology, be mindful that today’s workforce is incredibly diverse, and each generation adapts to new technologies at different rates — no matter how easy-to-use the tech may seem. A manufacturer’s strategy for implementing new technologies should take generational differences into account to ensure a positive employee experience for all.

AD: Are HR policies and practices changing as a result of having multigenerational workforces?

Zenk: Yes. Although both millennials and Gen Z have been viewed as “entitled” or “demanding” at times, these generations are influencing real change among the workforce in terms of raising collective expectations around HR policies and practices, including demand for user-friendly workplace technology, schedule flexibility, and emerging financial wellness benefits like earned wage access. Seeing their younger colleagues advocating for what they want, seasoned workers are changing their expectations, too.

In today’s job climate, old-school methods to recruit and retain employees simply won’t work. Manufacturers need to rethink how they advertise and promote open positions (find prospective employees through online channels); automate the application and onboarding process; and seek alternative talent pools to recruit new hires. The way we work is changing, and the technology that helps manufacturers manage the workforce must keep up in order to fundamentally support employee engagement and drive productivity.

AD: As the baby-boomers continue to retire, what steps should manufacturers take to encourage the younger generations’ interest in manufacturing careers?

Zenk: The manufacturing industry is filled with opportunity for Gen Z. Surging growth, a strong economic outlook, and plenty of high-paying jobs are just what Gen Z would hope for in a career. It’s a simple matter of bringing awareness to the fact that manufacturing offers these things and taking steps to reshape today’s perceptions of the industry.

To encourage interest in manufacturing careers and usher in new talent, companies can start by investing recruitment dollars in supporting community events or activities, like sponsoring STEM activities at a local school or arranging plant tours and inviting students to come and experience the world of advanced manufacturing firsthand. Kronos, for example, recently partnered with the Eastern Iowa & Western Illinois Sector Board to co-host an event for more than 340 eighth-graders. It featured interactive sessions (including a virtual reality welding simulator) facilitated by regional colleges and manufacturing companies. Many students walked away with a newfound appreciation for manufacturing and its impact on their day-to-day lives. Personally, their enthusiasm and feedback left me extremely hopeful about the future of our industry.