Karl Moore (right) with Gabrielle Hartshorne-Mehl, a Desautels student and the producer of The CEO Series, a radio show featuring Moore’s interviews with leaders in different fields. (Photo: Owen Egan)


Managing in a multi-generational workplace

Karl Moore, an associate professor at the Desautels Faculty of Management, works with young people all the time – and he sees no reason why his fellow boomers can’t forge productive workplace relationships with millennials and Gen Z. His new book Generation Why offers tips on how to go about it. 

Story by Andrew Mahon

April 2023

Forget those snide comments about millennials’ pricey avocado toast and those “OK, boomer” jibes at the older generation. According to Karl Moore, an associate professor at the Desautels Faculty of Management, the oft-cited generational divide can not only be reconciled, but also harnessed as an effective management strategy.

Moore’s latest book, Generation Why: How Boomers Can Lead and Learn from Millennials and Gen Z, delves into the worldview of millennials and Generation Z (roughly defined as individuals under the age of 35) and offers some best practices for engaging and managing a cohort that is radically different from the ubiquitous boomer brigade (58 to 76 years old).

“The biggest misconception that boomers have about millennials/Zers is that they’re self-focused whiners,” says Moore. “And the biggest complaint that millennials/Zers have about boomers is that they’re entirely stuck in the past and will never change.”

According to Moore, step one in bridging the sometimes testy demographic divide is understanding the worldview of the millennial/Gen Z generation and how that perspective manifests itself in the modern workplace.

Moore certainly has an ideal vantage point from which to observe both cohorts in action. At Desautels (he is also an associate professor in the Department of Neurology & Neurosurgery at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences), he routinely teaches undergraduate and graduate students. On top of that, he has conducted 800 plus interviews with under-30-year-olds across countries, including Canada, the United States, Japan, Iceland, and the United Kingdom.

At the other end of the age spectrum, his prolific work on blogs, radio shows and executive teaching courses brings him into contact with about 100 CEOs a year – not to mention the fact that he himself is a boomer.

Moore is the first to recognize that much has changed since he was a young manager working at IBM some 30 years ago. Unlike the office of the 70s, today’s workplace is what Moore calls a “post-modern” environment where knowledge is no longer power (because information is so widely and freely available to anyone with an internet connection).

Today’s managers also place a strong focus on interpersonal relationships, self-development, self-empowerment, and quality of life. Gone today (for the most part) are the strict corporate hierarchies that revered seniority and age.

“My students call me ‘Karl’,” says Moore. “They see themselves as more my equal. Their view of hierarchy is quite different from the time when I grew up.”

As a guide to leading and managing millennials/Zers, Moore’s book offers a series of “necessary tools” that he considers de rigueur for effectively working with this cohort and, for the most part, has incorporated into his own work habits.

For example, Moore cites listening as a prerequisite quality in the post-modern workplace – which is sometimes easier said than done.

The concept of listening is certainly not new, but Moore says that the concept of executives listening to young people in their organizations is rare and an overlooked leadership tool. Millennials and Gen Zers provide insight and intelligence into a changing world which is a vital part of a successful business strategy. Conversely, this same cohort gets frustrated when their input is discounted.

Purpose is another characteristic of a successful millennial/Gen Z-friendly organization. Once upon a time, a boomer workforce at, for example, a lightbulb company might focus exclusively on sales targets, product lines, shipping volumes etc. Millennials/Zers tend to look for meaning beyond sheer numbers and seek out companies which are not only financially successful, but also make a positive impact in the community and are good corporate citizens.

“Young people are more careful about where they work and they’re going to look at cultural fit, values, environmental impact and EDI [Equity, Diversity and Inclusion],” says Moore. “They are driving these agendas.”

Authenticity is another important leadership attribute in the eyes of the millennial/Gen Z workforce.

“I was at IBM for about 11 years and all the men wore red ties, white shirts and blue suits,” says Moore. “You could tell we were IBMers. We were made to be IBMers. Today, there is much more sharing of who you are.”

One particular tool that Moore deploys constantly (and strongly recommends to business leaders) is reverse mentoring where older managers are mentored by millennials/Zers. This comprises a lot more than just boomers asking younger colleagues how to unsubscribe from Netflix.

For Moore, it means flipping the switch on traditional top-down mentoring and, instead, engaging younger employees to provide insight into emerging technology, sustainability, and many other key issues. Where reverse mentoring has become part of an organization’s culture, Moore notes that positive spin-off effects include increased employee retention, accelerated culture change and a greater focus on diversity.

In fact, Moore’s single piece of advice to millennials, Gen Zers and boomers alike is to embrace the benefits of reverse mentoring.

“If you’re a good capitalist, shut up and listen to younger people because they see the world differently and that is valuable,” he says.

Back to top