Mary Beth Clifton Shares What it’s Like to Work With a Multi-Generational Workforce


With work-life expectancy continually expanding, there are more generations working together right now than at any other time in history. And while this is certainly a unique opportunity to blend generational cultures, talents and knowledge, it also poses some challenges with collaboration, communication and perspective.

To learn how Valencia’s diverse, multi-generational colleagues can better work together, we consulted Mary Beth Clifton, assistant vice president, total rewards and workforce planning, who is a veteran of working through generational gaps. Here’s what she had to say:

Q: How do you go about working with a generationally diverse team?

A: Early in my career, I learned to sincerely listen and learn from all of my colleagues, regardless of their generational diversity. I became a supervisor at age 21 and my team was all older than me. Listening and considering experiences from older perspectives helped me avoid some mistakes. I remember a woman I hired when I was 25. Her name was Geneva and she was 62.  She shared with me that during the entire interview process she thought it was a waste of time because in her words, “this kid” (referring to me) would not hire her. In return, I shared with her my selection was probably selfish. I wanted to hire the very best person with the most experience to join my team and that was her. We worked together for many more years and I learned so much from her, both personally and professionally. slice

Overall, I hesitate to label people with the socially constructed phrases like Baby Boomers and Millennials. While they may share some similarities due to world they grew up in, it’s important to know that even people in the same generation (and even those who are the same age) are diverse. Some examples of this could be:

  • A department of five Millennials might have been exposed to different cultural environments — socio-economically, geographically and ethnically. You can’t assume you know what they feel or think because of a general definition. Each has a unique perspective; find out what it is.
  • A seemingly diverse team of three employees composed of a Baby Boomer, Millennial and Gen X may be all sharing the same life experience of welcoming a baby into their family. While their ages may be decades apart, there are common anticipations, joys, fears and wonders each of them may be sharing.
  • Our new student body for fall 2016 — all different ages, interests, languages, family circumstances.
  • A new parent or new grandparent?  Don’t assume. The person may be both!

Q: As a leader, how important is it to you that you understand the needs of different types of employees?

A: It is important to understand the different needs of employees on your team, so you can interact with them personally, as well as lead others on how to interact with colleagues that may have different backgrounds, beliefs and experiences. In team meetings, it is crucial to be open minded and listen to suggestions from everyone — regardless of age, education, gender, ethnicity or how people choose to express themselves in the workplace. While it is a given that we may never all agree on the same thing, we can understand and respect those with different opinions and the thought process behind those opinions.

Q: As a leader who may be of a different generation to some of their team, what are some of the things you need to learn or change to manage Gen X and Millennial employees?

A: Having a definite approach to working with employees of all generations is to be sure you all share an understanding in how you communicate. I recommend frequent follow up to ensure we are aligned on our path.

In my industry language, I need to be clear that when I request a “tweak to a deck” I’m looking for an update to a PowerPoint presentation, the same as updating a Prezi presentation. In team meetings, when we celebrate, I am sure to bring together past and current terminology to share special events. If an employee “slays” something, I make sure others know that is a positive thing.

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