As the retirement age stretches beyond 65 and apprenticeship programmes welcome the younger generation earlier, the 21st century workforce now consists of three (and sometimes four!) diverse generations. Unsurprisingly, this multi-generational workforce has different mindsets, approaches to work and expectations, so it is critical for companies recruiting across the spectrum to understand both their idiosyncrasies and commonalities.

Let’s start with what is congruent across the age spectrum: flexible working hours, work-life balance, teamwork, knowledge sharing and enterprise. That’s the easy bit – but to facilitate optimum supply talent management it is imperative that the different characteristics of these varied employees are well understood.

The Silent Generation

It’s unlikely that many people born in the 1940s still work in a day-to-day role in any organisation, unless they are a CEO like Warren Buffett (83) or Rupert Murdoch (82). But there are still a few septuagenarians and octogenarians who continue to lend their great interpersonal skills and loyalty to an organisation that they have typically spent a number of decades serving. This generation, shaped by McCarthyism and the Cold War are staunch traditionalists. They believe that promotion comes from job tenure and productivity, demonstrated by being at your desk or on the factory floor.

The attitudes of this fading workforce are far-removed from the Baby Boomers that followed them, never mind Generation Y. While it is unlikely that recruitment of this group is conducted in any real way, there is much from the silent generation that carries over with regards to retention, particularly in the mentorship and positive reinforcement they provide that novice employees crave.

Baby Boomers

This is the world’s largest economic group, renowned for coining the phrase ‘workaholic’ and who still make up the majority of those who run local and national government. Considered to be materialistic, this is the generation that wanted it all. They work long hours, expect loyalty from their team and are relationship-focussed. The ‘generation gap’ is most apparent between this group and Generation Y, who they believe are lazy, entitled and without a work ethic.

Recruitment of this cohort tends to be as old-fashioned as they are, relying on print adverts, referrals and largely ignoring the online world. Face-to-face interviews and phone calls are essential components, while social media and online evaluations prove fruitless avenues.

Generation X

The children of Baby Boomers, this is the generation that is synonymous with the boom and bust, being the first workforce to become comfortable with technology – both its highs and lows. This group that brought ‘casual’ to the office, seeking to relax the rules and blur the lines between professional and personal. However, Generation X is the middle child stuck in between the Baby Boomers and Generation Y.

Generation Y want meritocracy in the workplace and are digital natives, bringing into sharp focus how Generation X has lost its technological advantage. The quest for quick promotion based on ability can marginalise Generation Xers, who find it difficult to work with a much younger boss who they believe has usurped them.

Generation X demands a blend of techniques, but the majority are likely to be actively seeking work on their own terms, rather than being approached as passive candidates. Web-based job boards prove effective and, perhaps surprisingly, Facebook will work better for this generation than for Y, which has already moved on to social media pastures new.

Generation Y

Generation Y are smart workers, they are multitaskers who are constantly plugged-in, looking for shortcuts and innovation to get their work done better and faster. A Baby Boomer would do well to learn these skills, not only to participate in the digital world that modern business demands, but to free up their time to give them the head space to define their legacy and manage succession planning as they head towards their own retirement.

Generation Y is highly responsive to the latest recruitment innovations; passive recruitment, gamification, Skype interviews and social media channels all dovetail particularly well with the generation’s ‘always on’ personality.

The generation game: Recruiting (and keeping) an age-diverse workforce

Assembling and moulding such a workforce is not easy, but the recruitment process has to be tailored to each group if the best candidates are to be attracted. Each generation brings with it undeniable benefits, and the strongest workforce is one where these strengths complement each other. The experienced Silent Generation and Baby Boomers should be encouraged to mentor younger workers, a hard-working outlook should be paired with innovation and collaboration must be facilitated. Only with the best recruits and an effective employee engagement programme will the generation game be won.