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 multigenerational 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 multigenerational 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.

COMMUNICATION PREFERENCES

VALUE PREFERENCES

WORK STYLE PREFERENCES

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 multigenerational 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.

For more strategies on tackling a diverse, multigenerational workforce, check out our keynote, Using Emotional Intelligence to Lead a Multigenerational Workforce, available in live or virtual delivery format. Bridge the gap between your multigenerational workforce today!

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