Have you complained about your co-worker – a newly hired graduate, fresh out of school – because she does not want to do some tasks? Or have you felt that your boss is just too stuck in his ways and has no respect for work-life balance? Still worse, have you felt like Simon Sinek was right in his viral video on Millennials – they are tough to manage, feel a sense of entitlement, and want free food and bean bags chairs in the office?
You are certainly not alone. These are legitimate feelings stemming from one’s background and experience, as well as their perspective of the other generations. The challenge is when these frustrations and beliefs are expressed in the workplace, conflicts arise. Thus, managers are forced to deal with these conflicts because if left unresolved, they can hamper team productivity and employee morale and can hurt the entire business.
What, then, can help managers learn to manage this multi-generational workforce? The answer is, first, you need to understand them and how to best utilize their unique knowledge and viewpoints.
UNDERSTANDING THE MULTIGENERATIONAL WORKFORCE
With the Generation Z cohort entering the workforce, we are managing the most multi-generational workforce than ever. Traditionalists (ages 76 and up), Baby Boomers (ages 55-75). Generation X (ages 35-54), Millennials or Generation Y (ages 23-34), and the Gen Zers (ages 22 or younger) now must work alongside each other. Longer lifespans, delayed retirement and an eagerness to begin working earlier are just a few of the reasons we are seeing a greater span of generations working together than ever before.
Each generation has its strengths and challenges, and we need to learn how to manage each group and teach them to work together cooperatively. To do this, managers first need to recognize that each generation exhibits a set of distinct characteristics that differentiate it from the others. To manage them well, leaders need to know the unique features each generation possesses. Jeanne C. Meister, co-author of The 2020 Workplace: How Innovative Companies Attract, Develop, and Keep Tomorrow’s Employees Today says, “It’s your job to help your employees recognize that they each have distinct sets of skills and different things they bring to the table.“
The ability to handle situations arising from generational conflicts or manage their different needs is primarily determined by one’s level of emotional intelligence (EI). How can a leader or a manager use EI to resolve conflicts and manage well, using the strengths of each generation to achieve growth and success?
First, the leader has to recognize that there are three areas where these generations differ and can be the source of conflict: communication, work values, and work styles.
- Traditionalists, although few are still in the workforce, prefer face-to-face communication. No surprise there. They prefer to hold a conversation in person with their colleagues or boss versus sending them an email.
- Baby Boomers also tend to prefer face-to-face communication or phone calls but will email if required, but do not like to instant messages. They are more reserved, formal and structured.
- Generation X is more comfortable with email communication than face-to-face or telephone conversations and prefers short informal text and email conversations.
- Generation Y also uses email but prefers text and social media communication and any instantaneous communication – like instant messaging. In contrast, for a Millennial, a phone call may take a little longer to return.
- Generation Zers have never known a world without computers, cell phones, and social media. They are well equipped with hand-held mobile devices and prefer Facetime when communicating with others. This makes a lot of sense since, ultimately, they are the Snapchat Generation. Having said that, they do prefer to have a human element to their teams, either working solely with innovative co-workers or with co-workers and new technologies. They need a blend of high-tech with a personal touch.
- Traditionalists adhere to rules, are disciplined, and family-focused. They work hard and trust in the government and value stability.
- Baby Boomer value expertise, experience, and institutional and political knowledge. Growing up surrounded by civil movements, they are anti-war, anti-government and believe in equal rights. They value professional accomplishments, collaboration and working with others.
- Generation X is more focused on flexible work arrangements, family time and faster promotional opportunities. They value work-life balance, security, freedom, and like to be rewarded for their hard work. They also appreciate diversity in teams and have a global mindset.
- Generation Y is more about empowerment and autonomy. They value creativity and innovation, hyper-connectivity, sociability and a fast-paced work environment. They also value achievements, education, competition, attention and globalism.
- Generation Zers value professional development, upward mobility, and community. They want their jobs to have an impact on the world, but parallel to the traditionalists in many ways, they grew up in a time of economic uncertainty; therefore, they crave stability and a competitive salary more than the recent generations preceding them.
WORK STYLE PREFERENCES
- Traditionalists’ defining characteristic is their strong work ethic. Having grown up in the Great Depression, they often see working as a privilege. They are incredibly loyal, often staying at one organization for their entire career. They rarely question authority and may have trouble with technology.
- Baby Boomers aren’t illiterate when it comes to technology, but prefer more traditional PowerPoints or simple handouts versus more interactive presentations. They, like the generation before them, are reliable, hard-working, and are often considered the “workaholic” generation. Boomers grew up making phone calls and writing letters; therefore, they are strong at building relationships and networks and place high importance on face-to-face meetings.
- Generation X, following the footsteps of the Baby Boomers, are fiercely independent and prefer projects with little structure, and the flexibility to work when they think is best. They like multitasking and are very adaptable to change, which makes sense since the onset of technology came during their younger years. The Gen Xers are bright, well-educated, and multi-processing thinkers; they expect to be able to help their organization evolve. They will question policies, procedures and processes, and they need to feel that their ideas are welcome.
- Generation Y or Millennials grew up with a turbulent economy, terrorism attacks, and seamless digital technology, and therefore, were sheltered by their parents. They want work that has meaning and purpose, and they want to be given opportunities to work and learn from their other talented and intelligent colleagues. They enjoy socializing and teamwork, but prefer quick, casual and socially-tinged meetings. The ability to use technology for interaction further undermines the importance of lengthy meetings and formal spaces.
- Finally, the Gen Zers may be young, but they are entering the workforce earlier than most. Having grown up in an era of political and economic turbulence, Gen Zers have a strong entrepreneurial drive but yearn for stability. They want a job that can satisfy their creative, entrepreneurial, tech-savvy characteristics, but for a competitive salary. This generation is younger than Google, so the way they learn, problem solve and share information is different than the generations before them. They prefer self-directed and independent learning, but also prefer regular check-ins from their manager and getting frequent feedback. Finally, they value a team with diversity – diverse education, skill levels, and cultures.
These generational categories are not the end-all-be-all. Let’s face it, people are complicated, and not every person will fit perfectly within these classifications; there will be variances and differences. It is critical for you as a leader to know the significant life events that happen to define each generation, and pay attention to the general trends that follow. All five generations are unique and offer their strengths to the workplace.
HOW CAN EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE HELP IN MANAGING A MULTIGENERATIONAL WORKFORCE?
A leader who is aware of these generational differences recognizes that different styles are borne out of different perspectives, which leads to different motivations. As a leader, you need to embrace all of these differences.
It is, therefore, essential for the leader to encourage communication and collaboration between these generations since ‘connection’ is the lifeblood of any relationship. But before meaningful conversations can occur, there has to be empathy – the ability to understand something from another’s perspective; to put yourself in someone’s shoes. Empathy is one of the critical skills in EI, which everyone in the workplace has to learn, not just the leader.
Empathy provides the foundation for understanding and communication. It also leads to trust, which then paves the way for more open and meaningful communication in the workplace. This communication will open the doors to self-awareness and shared values. When everyone strives to understand each other’s values, there will be a unified effort to use these values for the betterment of the organization.
Another EI skill that is needed to manage the generation gap is flexibility. Flexibility is being adaptable and tolerant of different work approaches or values. It allows you to keep an open mind to alternative or innovative approaches to work. Remember, your way might not be the only way. Your reality is not everyone’s reality.
Having high flexibility shows the other person that you are open to using different methods for communication if that better suits them, flexing your communication style to speak their language. As a leader, you also need to accommodate different learning styles amongst your team and offer them alternatives. For instance, the Gen Zer may want self-directed online learning versus the Boomer or Gen X that wants a live training workshop with face-to-face interaction with the facilitator and their colleagues.
Empathy and Flexibility are just two of the emotional intelligence competencies needed to lead your diverse team in the workplace. There are thirteen other critical skills leaders must learn to master, because, at the core, emotional intelligence levels the playing field for a multi-generational workforce. Regardless of which generation we were born into, we are human first, and humans are creatures of emotions. Leading with emotional intelligence is a universal language we all understand and speak.