In the United States and across the world, changes in the workplace demographics have an impact on leadership and management of organisations. Currently, the typical workplace has multi-generational workforce characterised by four groups that have to work together to achieve the shared goals and vision of the organisation (Solaja and Ogunola, 2016). The age differences between workers have increased as more people work way past their retirement age while others join the workforce while they are very young after attaining the age of the majority. Such situation has led to the common presence of four generations in the workplace, and these include the Baby boomers, Generation X, the Millennials, and Generation Z (Burke et al., 2015). Many organisations are struggling to come up with a strategy that can ensure they retain and motivate highly skilled employees who are almost moving out of the workplace. On the other hand, the strategy has to ensure the organisation remains attractive to the lesser skilled and young individuals who are joining the workforce (Holian, 2015). The need for a strategy to manage the different groups comes from the fact that the risk for conflict is high since each of the groups has varying values and approaches to the workplace.

Many previous studies have shown that each of the four groups has varying characteristics. The baby boomers are considered as workaholics, confident, optimistic, and independent. Holian (2015) argues that baby boomers seek personal gratification and prefer a team environment through which they can change the world. On the other hand, the Generation X, or simply Gen-X, consider themselves as free agents who are reluctant to sacrifice their personal lives for a profession. Lewis and Wescott (2017) note that Gen-Xers change careers frequently and are always looking for better opportunities for career and skills development.  The third group is the Generation Y or millenials, who grew up in technology and thus are better technology savvy (Dwyer and Azevedo, 2016). Furthermore, the group is family-centric whereby individuals are willing to trade high-income jobs for ones with lesser pay but more flexible schedules to enable a better work-life balance (Stanley, 2010).  Furthermore, the group is team-oriented but on the downside, lacks commitment and loyalty to a workplace, and thus is prone to job-hopping. Lastly, the Generation Z is characterised by individuals who have grown up entirely in the dot.com era and are truly a global group more willing to work in multiple countries than any other generation before (Solaja and Ogunola, 2016). The group is highly independent in that it depends on the internet for learning and gaining new information about anything. Working with all the above groups presents organisations with challenges that require strategies to ensure it meets their needs while retaining an efficient workforce.

The current study will focus primarily on the Defence Information Technology Sector with a focus on the employees in the U.S. Federal Government. Furthermore, it will include elements that characterise the NATO military structure, which will help show that the multi-generational problems facing organizations are not limited to the U.S. but are geographically and culturally diverse. In this case, the findings of the study will be replicable to many organisations and sectors across the world.









Significance and Purpose of the Study

The research problem concerns the need to study the challenges that affect leadership in a multigenerational workforce.  The study will analyse whether the macro-level descriptions of the differences between the four generations indicator behaviour in an organisation setting. Furthermore, the study will analyse how the different generations interact with corporate leaders. Additionally, it will focus on identifying the changes in leading a multigenerational workforce.  The identification of the problems facing leaders in a multigenerational workforce will facilitate the development of recommendations and solutions to addressing them and making it easier for organisations to remain efficient and able to meet their objectives.

The findings of the study will play a major role in contributing to the growing knowledge of the approaches organisational leadership should advocate for in leading a multigenerational workforce. Most importantly, the study will be of significance in the defence sector strives to ensure that it delivers its mandate of protecting the citizens of the United States from internal and external threats that continue to evolve especially in the technological realm. In this process, the study will be important in identifying the gaps in knowledge that exist in managing a multigenerational workplace in the IT sector in defence. Consequently, the study is significant in identifying and offering solutions to the gaps that exist in knowledge.

Objectives of the Study

The study’s main objective is to ascertain how different generations interact with corporate leaders and identify the challenges of working with in a multigenerational environment.

Research Questions

The study will be based on the following research questions:

  1. What are the work-related characteristics differentiating each generation?
  2. What leadership challenges that emerge in the workplace in managing and leading a multigenerational workforce?


Generation Differences

There are numerous definitions of what constitutes a generational group. A 1991 study by Strauss and Howe defined a generational group as people born into a particular socio-political movement with unique values, belief, and personalities (Thompson, 2017, p.26). This definition attributes personality of a generation to historical events. Johnson and Johnson (2010, p.6) defined a generation as a group of individuals who are born and live concurrently, who share knowledge and experiences that affect their value and behavior system. Based on the definitions, individuals born within the same period who journey life together form a generational group. Thompson (2017, p.26) identifies the four main generation groups as Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y or millennial, and recently Generation Z. People who are born in between the generation cohorts are Cuspers and act as the dividing line between the cohorts (Thompson, 2017, p.27). Each of the generational clusters has distinctive attributes.

Baby Boomers

The Baby Boomer generation was born between 1946 and 1964. According to Hannay and Fretwell (2011, 3), this generation constitutes the largest mass of the labor force. Significantly, Baby Boomers views borrow a huge influence from the civil rights movement, the Cuban missile crisis, the Vietnamese War, and the cold war (Solaja and Ogunola, 2016; Debevec et al., 2013). The main transformative device at home was the television while the personal computer shaped their work life (Hannay and Fretwell, 2011, 3). Zeeshan and Iram (2012, 316) observe that the core values of Baby Boomers include optimism, confidence, personal gratification, and teamwork. In terms of work values, Baby Boomers have an orientation towards service, career, teamwork, and recognition (Thompson, 2017, p.29). This strong belief in work defines the generation more than in other groups (Solaja and Ogunola, 2016; Debevec et al., 2013). Negatively, Baby Boomers are judgmental as seen in their avoidance of conflicts and non-human interactions (Salahuddin, 2010, p.2). Therefore, the group perceives the advent of technology-based communication as a threat.

Generation X

This group grew up in a period where the focus of life shifted from family life to social issues. In terms of timeframe, Generation X or Gen X was born in between 1965 and 1981 (Malik and Khera, 2014, p.435). The main events that shaped this era include the Gulf War, hippie, Black Friday, MTV, birth control pills, the emergence of AIDS, and the fall of Berlin wall (Gurwitt, 2013, p.29). Acar (2014, p.13) underscores that his generation experienced increased divorce and single parents. As such, they grew up in a state of dysfunctional families. Concerning personal attributes, Gen X are independent, resourceful, self-sufficient, and less trusting (Mihelich, 2013, 35). The characteristics related to the fact that their parents were Baby Boomers mostly at work. As a result, this group values family since they wish to be available for their children (Thompson, 2017, p.27; Burke et al., 2015). Generation X individuals have a preference for working alone and have an interest in skills development (Schoch, 2012, p.26). Since the group entered the job market in the 1980s and witnessed an economic recession and unemployment, Baby Boomers are loyal and committed workers (Thompson, 2017, p.30). However, the group is not as attached to work like Baby Boomers.

Generation Y

The last cohort to enter into the job market is Generation Y or millennials born between 1982 and 1999 (Debevec et al., 2013). According to the U.S. census in 2015, there are about 83 million individuals and make a third of the American population ((Solaja and Ogunola, 2016; Burke et al., 2015)). Hence, in numbers, millennials are the largest cluster in history. Events that shape the attributes of millennials include the global war on terrorism, mass shootings, climate change, and global financial meltdown (Salahuddin, 2010, p.3). Significantly, millennials grew up in an era of technological innovations such as cell phones and personal computers (Debevec et al., 2013, 23). Hence, the group is technologically savvy and perceives technology as a basic item. In terms of work life, millennials value diversity, they are socially and ethically conscious, they multi-task, and prefer electronic communication (Thompson, 2017, p.32). Thomson and Gregory (2012, p.242) notes that Gen Y prefers a casual working environment where rules such as personal dressing are relaxed (Solaja and Ogunola, 2016). Fundamentally, millennial have a “get it all and quick” mentality (Bolton et al., 2013). This orientation may explain their drive for better salaries, quick promotions, challenging tasks, and social change. Negatively, human resource experts indicate that millennials lack work ethics, respect, and loyalty and are quickly distracted (Thompson, 2017, p.32). Consequently, retaining millennials at a workplace can be a challenging task.

Generation Z

Generation Z is the youngest and recent cohort having been born in the 21st Century. Thompson (2017, p.33) maintain that as the Digital Generation, the online age, epidemic outbreaks, and a president from an African descent influences their short life. Arguably, the iGen group has experienced a globalized world where diversity is normal (Burke et al., 2015). Since Generation Z is accustomed to using technology in school and home life, they are smart, self-directed, and quick in processing information (Hannay and Fretwell, 2011, p.4). Having grown up in a world of instant communication, the generation seeks for instant satisfaction and continuous feedback.  Hannay and Fretwell (2011, p.4) describe the digital generation as needy, emotional, as they always look for attention, validation, and entertainment. More so, the group is less involved in teamwork and prefer to multi-task at work (Stanley, 2010). The affinity to work independently and remotely through technology has an influence on their cooperation at work. Despite the desire for freedom at work, the generation wants clear direction and supervision at work (Hannay and Fretwell, 2011, p.4). Besides the group believes in experimenting and as such prefers doing than listening (Shaw and Fairhurst, 2008, p.376). Therefore, flexibility and sociability are the key distinctive features of Generation Z.

Workplace Dynamics of Intergenerational Teams

This section examines various component that affects workplace dynamic in an intergenerational tea. The factors include age groups, stereotypes, values, work ethics, conflict, and leadership.

Age Groups and Workforce

There is a considerable challenge in maintaining the balance of a workforce with diverse age groups. According to Bodner, Bergaman, and Cohen-Fidel (2012, p.2), ageism as an attitude exists in multiple forms and contexts like age denial and avoidance. More so, there is a preference for employees of the same age to work together (Standifer et al., 2013, p.1598). Thus, if there is an influx of age diversity, conflicts may occur. However, age differences are an opportunity for learning across age groups. Swan (2012, p.271) note that age group diversity can increase productivity by assimilating experience from old employees with the innovation of young job entrants. Age groupings can assist to minimize the level of uncertainty and to facilitate change. Managers ought to learn both the behaviors and traits of all ages and integrate them into decision-making (Rajput et al., 2013, p.133). Thus, by appreciating the diversity in work styles and traits, it is possible to energize a multigenerational labor force.

Workforce Stereotypes

Ordinarily, there are multiple stereotypes and perceptions assigned to different generational groups in the workforce. Chaudhuri and Gosh (2012, p.58) argue that stereotypes in the workplace exist due to a lack of openness. For example, there is a perception that Baby Boomers resist change and training while millennials are less physically agile. According to Lester et al. (2012, p.344), key areas of stereotypes include the perception of organization loyalty, value for teamwork, and the ability to multi-task. Stereotypes have drastic and long-term outcomes on workers and organizations as they may affect job satisfaction, employee engagement, interpersonal relations, and staff turnover (Iden, 2016, p.28). Managers must understand the perceptional differences and develop policies that support understanding in a multigenerational workforce.

Employee Motivation

Motivational differences exist between generational groups in a workforce. Motivation is the physical and behavioral use of individual energy to complete a work task (Elias, Smith, and Berny, 2012). Motivation is thus a key determinant of employee performance since it affects company turnover and profitability. A key area where intrinsic and extrinsic motivation has a big influence is technology (Elias et al., 2013). For example, Baby Boomers may have a negative attitude towards new technology. The key determinants of motivation include working conditions, job structures, and reward systems (Gursoy et al., 2013, 30). Different generational gaps perceive and respond to these elements exclusively. Thus, the manager must pay attention to motivational needs to close the generational gap among workers.

Employees Values

Values are central to all decision-making processes across generational groups at work. According to Iden (2016, p.31), values are the key beliefs that an individual perceives to be meaningful. Ismail and Lu (2014, p.39) indicate that generational groups possess a unique set of values concerning work. More so, there is empirical evidence revealing that people who grew up in a different period have values based on the era influencing their attitudes and expectations at work (Cogin, 2012, p.2270). Studies show that Baby Boomers value material success and individuality, Generation X treasures family life and flexibility, Millennials care for freedom and social engagement (Hansen and Leuty, 2012, p.36). Human resource personnel can utilize such research on work-value differences to inform their supervisory approach.

Work Ethics in a Diverse Workforce

Ethics are the standards that guide an organization workforce. Jobe (2014, p.303) says ethics as a concept of work emerged in 1940 as a learned phenomenon illustrated through behavior. According to Smith (2011, p.634), individuals act and react in different ways subject to a given situation. Work ethics differ among generational cohorts. For example, research indicates that millennials are more likely to violate ethics than Baby Boomers and Generation X (Verschoor, 2013, p.11; Burke et al., 2015). Results showed that 37% of millennials use company network to access social media, 26% upload personal photos using a company computer, while 13% download business software for personal use (Verschoor, 2013, p.12). Such behaviors are likely to shape organizational culture. The fundamental ethical differences between millennial and older cohorts require a deeper understanding since the group dominates the workplace.

Conflict at the Workplace

Age-related conflicts are becoming a common phenomenon in the workplace. Standifer et al. (2013, p.1600) point out that age diversity contributes to uncertainties and relational challenges leading to conflicts. Ideally, conflict is detrimental to organizational productivity and teamwork (Standifer et al., 2013, p.1600). According to Hillman (2014, p.241), inter-generational conflict results from work-life balance, inadequate communication, and technology adoption issues at work. Moreover, inter-generational differences result in relational or task conflicts. Standifer et al. (2013, p.1601) observe that task conflict results from disagreement over work done while relationship conflicts result from interpersonal differences due to age. Thus, conflict creates an unhealthy work environment through animosity and distraction. Managers can prevent and manage inter-generational conflicts by creating collaborations and strategic deployment.

Management of Diversity

Leadership behavior and approaches are integral in managing diversity in an inter-generational workforce. Leaders can adopt the following strategies in workforce management. Firstly, leaders ought to demonstrate flexibility (Burke et al., 2015). The creation of open and flexible work schedules will help manage stress levels and improve productivity (Iden, 2016, 39). Secondly, the supervisor should cross-mentor various cohort groups. Reverse mentoring is fundamental in matching group strengths, increase knowledge, and build skills (Stanley, 2010, p850). Thirdly, leaders should adopt mixed communication channels (Burke et al., 2015). Communication can improve when different forms of communication appealing to specific generations are utilized (Ferri-Reed, 212, p.2). Fourthly, managers can adopt a motivational leadership style. This method encourages feedback and encouragement to the workforce, which is appealing especially to millennial (Iden, 2016, 39).  Besides, managers can demonstrate congruent leadership where a leader is followed because of their values and they become role models (Stanley, 2010, p850). Lastly, management ought to develop standard procedures. Standardization can hold workers to equal job expectations and organizational goals (Stanley, 2010; Burke et al., 2015)). In addition, managers must learn how to coach older staff to train young ones. As relationship managers, supervisors must increase contact between generations to release tension, and stereotypes will reduce.

Summary of Literature Review

The literature review included various sections beginning with an overview of generational differences. Four distinct generation cohorts emerge namely Baby Boomers, Gen Y, Gen X, and Gen Z. These groups are born and raised in the same period characterized by major historical events. Further, there was a discussion of the key attributes of each generational cohort in relation to workplace behaviors and performances. The literature review then focused on several elements of workforce dynamics namely age groups, stereotypes, motivation, values, work ethics, and conflict. Each of the elements above differs in each group, and these influence the leadership of the organization. Each of the elements also focused on the differences between the cohorts and their impact on the workforce, and a management suggestion. Finally, the literature review concludes by examining various management and leadership strategies to manage the diversity of an intergenerational workforce.


Research Method

The study will utilise a qualitative research methodology. The use of qualitative research methodology is the most appropriate in exploring the differences and similarities between the different groups on their values and approaches to work. The methodology will be essential in exploring solutions that can guide leaders in addressing the generational differences that may exist in the workplace. Furthermore, the methodology will be effective in examining how people in the workplace make sense of their environment through social structures, social roles, and rituals.

Some of the factors that make qualitative research to be more attractive for the study is anchored on the nature of the approach. Firstly, according to Monti, Colby, and Tevyaw, (2012), qualitative research is more descriptive than predictive, and hence its main goal is to understand the viewpoints of the respondents. Consequently, through the methodology, the current study will give the respondents an opportunity to be heard, and hence ensure a description of their views and perceptions of the workplace environment. The methodology is relevant as it will offer the opportunity to explore and explain the macro-level descriptions of the way each of the generations behaves as well as the stereotypes that exist. Overall, the qualitative methodology is the most appropriate for the current study.

Research Design

The study will utilise the case study design in answering the research questions. Neuman, (2013) notes a case study is effective in the exploration of the specific phenomenon in a particular context. In the current study, “Department of Homeland Security,” will be the case study organization. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) plays an important role in as part of defence in the country. The study will specifically focus on the department’s Information Technology segment, which will offer an important opportunity for investigating the different employees that it has, and most importantly, identifying the challenges faced by leadership. According to Lewis (2015), case studies are highly popular in qualitative inquiries. Monti et al., (2012) argues that a case study is effective as it allows a researcher to understand the characteristics of a bounded system and help in defining the events that occur within the system. In situations, that a researcher has no control over the events and the focus is on the current or real-life occurrences then case study is the most appropriate approach.


The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) employs more than 229,000 people. Among these people are those working in its Information and Technology segment, whose mandate is to ensure that its different IT systems remain functional and effective in facilitating services to the public. From the IT segment, the study will seek to interview 10 people from each of the generations. Additionally, the study will interview five managers of the IT segment in the organization. Ultimately, the sample population will be 45 people working with the IT segment of the DHS.

Sampling Strategy

In a qualitative study, there is no defined sample size. However, Neuman (2013) argues that the sample size should reach a saturation level whereby the collection of new data cannot offer any additional information regarding the population. Furthermore, the sample size should be as diverse or random as possible to best represent the population in the given setting. In the current study, the selection of the sample of 45 people was based on the understanding that each of the individuals involves in each population category would be able to offer the best representation to the group. The selection of the individuals was based on random sampling for each generation and purposeful sampling for the managers. Random sampling is the simplest approach for selecting individuals from a population whereby each person has an equal chance of being selected (Monti et al., 2012). On the other hand, purposeful sampling is whereby individuals are selected based on specific attributes.

Data Collection and Analysis Methods

The study will utilise different data collection methods. Firstly, for primary data, the study will utilise interviews and questionnaire. The interviews will target the managers whereby they will be asked different questions regarding their leadership challenges as they manage the different groups. On the other hand, questionnaires will be used for the four generations, as it is more effective and easier for covering a large group. The interviews will be contacted via the telephone while the questionnaire will be done online through the survey monkey website. For analysis, the study will utilise the descriptive approach, which will be essential in helping to find correlations and differences between the different groups under study at the DHS.

Limitations of the Study

One of the limitations of the study is the limited time-frame for the study. Such a short timeframe may not offer the best opportunity for studying the phenomenon under investigation. Secondly, due to limited resources, some of the essential activities such as traveling to interview managers are out of question, and this may reduce the accuracy of the information offered. Furthermore, there is a likelihood of the respondents not completing the questionnaires and hence jeopardizing the validity of the study. Lastly, the study’s findings will be limited to the DHS, and hence not generalizable to other groups.


Research Schedule



February March April May
Research Proposal        
Data Collection Tools        
Data Collection        
Data Analysis, Findings, and Recommendations        
Submission of the Report        



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