There are five generations in the workplace today who bring roughly eight decades of life and work perspectives to the global marketplace. Leveraging emotional intelligence (EI) with awareness and discernment will increase your success in communicating effectively with those you influence, regardless of generation.
Using extremely broad strokes, and poking a bit of fun at ourselves, let’s take a quick look at the diversity of these groups.
Do you know how the Silent Generation (1928-1945) got its name? They say it’s because they chose to work hard with heads down in the new system for which their parents had paid dearly in World War II. Now 75 and older, they make up less than 2% of the workforce1, mostly part-time, to keep active and/or to supplement retirement resources. Known for their disciplined work ethic, they have seen their Boomer children “do better than they did” in education, wealth and professional accomplishment.
Boomers (1946-1964) now make up less than 25% of US workforce and were surpassed this year by the millennials as the largest living adult generation2. They have traveled the farthest on the path of change, starting in business more than 50 years ago under leaders who taught them, “Because I said so,” now heading into the sunset of their careers as valuable mentors for next-gen leaders asking, “How can I help you?”
Gen Xers (1965-1980) are the 40- and 50-somethings quietly triumphing in the workplace, using the experience they gained in the shadow of the boomers to assume the senior-tier seats of retirees. They now hold 51% of leadership roles globally.3 The “latch-key” kids who grew up on 1980’s sitcoms and movies, classic rock and pop and used external modems with TRS-80 Radio Shack computers (remember that connecting sound?!) are changing the way of work4 and will bear the weight of leading post-pandemic rejuvenation.
Millennials (1981-1996) now make up over 40% of the workforce5 and begin to TURN 40 in 2021! They grew up in the age of Facebook and increased screen time. Digitally savvy4 and hungry for success, they now know that rocket-paced trips to the C-suite are the exception rather than the rule. This group has led the way for “gig” work to be a viable source of income and rates themselves as “dependable and self-disciplined, extraverted and enthusiastic and open to new experiences”5. Interestingly, immigration adds more numbers to this group than any other in the U.S.2.
And that brings us to Gen Z (1997-tbd), aka the “iGen” for their native proficiency with digital devices and social media. By the end of 2020, over 40% of the global population will be 24 and younger, with the first crop emerging from college now, making up 5% (and counting) of the workforce6. Early research shows them to be thoughtful and cause driven, able to perceive truth from lies and wary of debt. They are innately equipped for the virtual/remote workplace and are more eager than other generations to embrace internships and apprenticeships that equip them “now” over traditional degrees whose value does not seem to outweigh the cost.
The million-dollar question is, “Is there really a unique way to speak to each generation?” Over 14 million Situational Leaders across the globe, in more than 70% of the Fortune 500 as well as other small and mid-size companies, have proven that the four steps of the Situational Leadership® Model transcend generational idiosyncrasies for improving success and engagement. In similar fashion, personality assessments like DiSC® and MBTI® have also proven to be generation neutral. And if leaders were to continually develop and deploy their EQi-2.0® emotional intelligence skillset, they would find much greater success engaging each person appropriately, regardless of generational marker.
Admittedly, we use “broad strokes” in what follows to provide some sound advice from decades of experience.
Boomers have worked hard for more than five decades and expect the same from others. In conversation with them, bring your Assertiveness and Problem Solving while leveraging your Interpersonal Relationships and Self-Regard. Come prepared with questions and probable scenarios to discuss for practical application. Be respectful of their perspective and openly value their experience; anticipate that their input will be sound, wise and immediately relevant.
Gen X has been the “middle child” between two generations who have received lots of press. They are educated and experienced and cannot be discounted or overlooked. While seniority is no longer a key factor in promotion, they are more likely than millennials to have poured years and energy into their current employer. Bring your Emotional Self-Awareness and Empathy, as well as Reality Testing and Flexibility to your conversations with them. Listen to their perspective and leverage their organizational knowledge then empower and disperse them to teams across the company to reap maximum growth and impact.
Millennials are confident and daring; eager to go far, fast. Embrace their leadership and digital skills for the data-driven analysis that points the way forward. Welcome their courage and creativity for innovative solutions to current and anticipated obstacles. As they are increasingly likely to be foreign-born with a first language other than English6, leverage their Empathy, Assertiveness, Stress Tolerance and Optimism alongside their multinational perspective to strengthen your approach to global business.
As Gen Z’s presence grows in your organization, involve and equip them early, as they are eager and know how to learn. Be curious and open, using active listening and Empathy to engage their Social Responsibility, Reality Testing and Optimism, along with the Situational Leadership® Model (Step 1!), to be fully aware of what they see, believe, sense and want to learn and do.
Further exploration of the multiple elements of emotional intelligence will help you to focus, select and then prepare for each conversation. Leveraging these with awareness and discernment will increase your success in communicating effectively with those you influence, regardless of generation.
- Who is it that you currently struggle to connect and communicate with effectively? Is there an element of EI you would be wise to “lean into” for increased understanding?
- Since you are part of a certain generation, how can you help others to understand that context and enable them to communicate more effectively with you?
3The Global Leadership Forecast 2018